From: ILPI Support <info**At_Symbol_Here**ILPI.COM>
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Chemical Safety headlines - editorial comment
Date: Wed, 17 Jun 2020 12:55:20 -0400
Reply-To: ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**Princeton.EDU>
Message-ID: 9E14D499-233D-4F60-B2B7-498EBA77776B**At_Symbol_Here**
In-Reply-To <0099c6a0-ab47-83ca-4c5f-c51ae25cfa96**At_Symbol_Here**>


While I, and no doubt everyone on the list, wholeheartedly agree that we should attempt to correct chemical misinformation in the public sphere, there are two big issues here.  The most important is is that we have no more information than what is provided in the article to go on.  So while we might *infer* in this case the the substance was ammonium nitrate, and a post such as yours starting a discussion thread about the accuracy/circumstances is both welcome and commonplace, we are not really in a position to "correct" an article without any firsthand knowledge. 

In fact, a key point of presenting these media reports in their original form is to show just how often chemical hazard and safety information is miscommunicated in a game of Telephone from the people immediately affected by the incident, the first responders, company/government spokespeople, attorneys and more, before that finally filters out to the press.  I been witness to a number of chemical safety incidents and know firsthand that the story or Official Statement that comes out on the other end rarely resembles the true facts of the matter.  I doubt that there is *any* news item in these headline digests that is completely accurate.   As chemists and other EHS/OHS professionals, these are daily reminders of the challenges we face and the glaring errors often go without comment because we all recognize them as such, as annoying and wrong as they are.

In some cases, individual list members have been compelled to contact the source of the article (or the parties involved) to clarify or correct misinformation, particularly when that presents a danger rather than merely being a slip of the chemical tongue.  If you look through the list archives you will find several topics such as flammable liquid "demonstrations" and the UCLA t-butyllithium incident that have elicited a broad and urgent response (which have elicited REAL changes and no doubt saved lives). Thats a good example of filling that call to action you describe, and with the enthusiasm you've shown I suspect you'll be joining those folks in such efforts.

The second issue is that you can't get blood from a stone.  Even if we looked past the inherent issues of annotating/correcting an article for which we have no actual information (and who in that chain injected the bad info),  given the volume of these headlines and the manual curation required despite some really neat coding to assemble these reports, this endeavor is already a very time-consuming process..  Reviewing each batch of headlines and trying to vet them based  on incomplete information and conjecture would take easily a half hour or more per edition.   As the volunteers behind this effort are already overtaxed, the limited resources we all have would be much better spent on something else that brings much greater impact.  I've known and worked with Ralph (on this project and others) for many years, and what he can accomplish with 15 extra minutes is absolutely astonishing - seriously, look at the charts he makes: .  If someone could create a 25 hour day, Ralph would probably solve most of the major problems facing the chemical community and, if we could clone him, the world.  

Let me close by saying welcome aboard!  It's clear you have found a group of like minded individuals to promote the goals and values of DCHAS.  We look forward to your additional contributions.

Rob Toreki

PS: Some background on the headlines project and what's involved there: and 

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On Jun 17, 2020, at 11:04 AM, Joseph DiVerdi <joseph.diverdi**At_Symbol_Here**ColoState.EDU> wrote:

Editor of DCHAS-L,

I am a new member of the DCHAS and have recently begun to receive correspondence from this Division including the very interesting (!) Headlines, part of which is copied below. I am writing to comment about the editorial policy regarding the review (or not) of articles prior to forwarding them.

In particular, the reference below reports of a worker being involved "... in an explosion while smashing sodium chloride to spray on longan plants." The identification of the substance in question being "sodium chloride" without further qualification raises the eyebrows of experienced and knowledgeable chemists.

Sodium chloride is not an impact explosive.

Perhaps the substance in question was not actually "sodium chloride." Perhaps it was a mixture of several salts, one or more being "energetic." Perhaps the substance was actually "ammonium nitrate", for example, a popular component of fertilizers which, in certain limited cases, can be detonated by impact. Perhaps the original article was written by non-chemistry-knowledgeable staff reporting on similarly non-chemistry-knowledgeable local police who refer colloquially to any whitish powder as "sodium chloride" or as "salt." There are so many possibilities to account for this bit of chemical misinformation which unfortunately has now been propagated into American Chemical Society media without qualification or explanation.

This issue could have very easily been cleared. The inclusion of "sic" <> in the text as in "... in an explosion while smashing sodium chloride [sic] to spray on longan plants." would be sufficient to staunch this path. This however, would require a thoughtful review of the source material (or at least a thorough read) prior to publication. I can appreciate a possible scenario where there are insufficient resources or personnel to perform such a review. In this case which one might then question the benefits and risks of republication without curation and whether such republication is merited at all.

A very dear friend and colleague of mine has made it a cottage industry to "call out" misinformation that appears in daily posts and re-posts on social media (you know which ones) where is it demonstrably almost trivial to "fact check" egregious claims and expose them for the falsehoods that they truly are. While not a lost art, it seems that we, as a society, could use a good refresher on the tools, methods and importance of rigorous fact checking.

I noted with deep satisfaction on the recent DCHAS-L list comments from some members claiming (exuberantly and enthusiastically!) how important chemistry is to so many spheres of human endeavors. (I am guilty of this to the distraction of my associates and familiars.) It is unfortunate that the place of chemistry is diminished (ever so slightly) by publication of any chemical (mis)information. I really do appreciate this is a small event yet an accumulation of small events can inexorably lead to larger issues and problems. I can be accused of making a mountain out of a molehill and am willing to accept such comments in the quest of increasing chemistry knowledge everywhere and at all times.

I (often) assert that it is incumbent on knowledgeable chemists to lead our society with well-curated and well-articulated technical knowledge to assist its citizens in making informed decisions even in the midst of many difficult choices. I exhort the good members of this Division to lead by example in this important work.

Joseph DiVerdi

On Wed, 17 Jun 2020 5:41 AM, DCHAS Membership Chair wrote:
Chemical Safety Headlines =46rom Google
Wednesday, June 17, 2020 at 7:40:57 AM

  A service of the ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety
  Connecting Chemistry and Safety at
  All article summaries and tags are archived at

Table of Contents (6 articles)


Tags: Thailand, industrial, explosion, death, dust


Tags: Thailand, industrial, explosion, death, dust

Battambang officials are warning about the dangers of chemical powder after a female worker died on Saturday in an explosion while smashing sodium chloride to spray on longan plants.

Ratanak Mondol district police chief Sorn Nil told The Post on Sunday that the victim, Yean Ya, 30, had been working at the longan farm for just five days and was paid 30,000 riel ($7.50) a day to mix chemical powder to fertilise the plants.

"She took the chemical to put in the tank and smashed it to become powder but then it exploded," he said.

Nil said the incident happened around 1:30pm and when the police went to the scene they found the longan tree broken in two due to the force of the blast.

"The victim was found 3m from the explosion and her body was severed from the waist down and torn to shreds," he said.

The victim had worked doing the same thing in Thailand for 10 years, according to a co-worker and had experience in mixing the chemical.

Police have classified the incident as an accident and will not take any action against the farm's owner.

Ratanak Mondol district governor In Saorith said on Monday that it's important to educate residents about the dangers of chemicals.

"I have also told the department of agriculture in Ratanak Mondol district to educate the farmers on the right way to handle chemicals," he said.


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Joseph A. DiVerdi, PhD, MBA
Associate Professor of Chemistry
Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA
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