Friday, January 8, 2016

Chemical accident near Boston

Multiple sources are reporting an explosion at a Dow Chemical facility in North Andover. Four or five people have been injured (reports are unclear).
(Thanks to Derek Lowe / In The Pipeline for the link.)

The involved chemical was trimethylaluminum or TMA. This is related to triethylaluminum (TEA) and methylaluminoxane (MAO), chemicals I've suggested for use in preparing catalysts for making plastic. They find uses in semiconductor processing (LED manufacturing for example) and as pyrophoric igniters for rocket engines.

These chemicals are extremely dangerous.

In order to use compounds like this in space, particularly in manufacturing, we must ensure that adequate safeguards are in place to protect lives and structures in case of accidents. That means following reasonable handling processes and designing spaces for activities like this that will fail independently.

I hope those affected recover. For the rest of us, take a minute to think about what we handle in our daily life, whether at home or at work. That might be as simple as a car. Recognize that our actions affect others and resolve to use due caution. If you know of a dangerous situation outside your control, tell someone.

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