From: "Secretary, ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety" <secretary**At_Symbol_Here**DCHAS.ORG>
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Sheri Sangji hearing this week
Date: June 11, 2012 9:17:44 AM EDT
Reply-To: DCHAS-L <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU>
Message-ID: <085D3EC5-C024-417F-8B53-E395D8E3F286**At_Symbol_Here**DCHAS.ORG>

From: "Nail, John"
Subject: RE: [DCHAS-L] Sheri Sangji hearing this week
Date: June 11, 2012 8:34:55 AM EDT

While I agree with the statement that 'flames (once they contact the skin) are very painful', I vehemently disagree with the statement that 'Anyone who has flames on them will be panicked'.

My graduate research used highly pyrophoric reagents and products, including neat trimethyl aluminum, neat trimethyl gallium; trimethyl phosphine, various arsines, etc. It was a GIVEN that fires WOULD occur. Yes, I have set myself on fire; I was more upset over burning a hole in a relatively new shirt than of the fire occurring.

EVERYONE who uses pyrophores must have the mindset that fires will occur and when they occur, to KEEP CALM, think through the situation, then TAKE THE APPROPRIATE ACTION. Years ago, an ACS safety video included a scene in which the contents of a 250 mL (?) beaker were on fire and demonstrated the wrong way (using a fire extinguisher that blew the beaker and the fire onto the floor) and the correct way (carefully covering the beaker with a watch glass) of extinguishing the fire.

The lessons learned regarding the Sheri Sangi tragedy should be:
1) think through your work. A syringe will work for measuring and transferring < 50 mL of a pyrophoric liquid; for > 50 mL, use a graduated cylinder and cannulas,
2) You always have a few seconds between when an incident, such as a fire begins and when it becomes bad; keep your head, think through the situation and react appropriately. From the reports of the incident, the appropriate response appears to have been the safety shower or to roll on the floor.
3) Lab personnel (undergrads, grad students, technicians, post docs, etc.) should not use pyrophores until they have had supervised experience using them and trained on what to do when fires occur.

A suggestion for labs that occasionally use pyrophores (typically organic research labs) - 'your on fire' training drills. A typical drill - a lab worker is told 'small fire on your sleeve' - the person is expected to either swat it out with his/her hand or put it out in the sink; 'your back is on fire' - appropriate response - if near a shower, calmly go to the shower and grab the pull; if not near a shower - to drop on the floor and roll.

The goal of the 'your on fire' drill is for the person to react appropriately instead of panicking.

Just my devalued $0.02 worth.

John Nail
Professor of Chemistry
Oklahoma City University

Previous post   |  Top of Page   |   Next post

The content of this page reflects the personal opinion(s) of the author(s) only, not the American Chemical Society, ILPI, Safety Emporium, or any other party. Use of any information on this page is at the reader's own risk. Unauthorized reproduction of these materials is prohibited. Send questions/comments about the archive to
The maintenance and hosting of the DCHAS-L archive is provided through the generous support of Safety Emporium.