Saturday, March 19, 2016

Postdoc loses arm in lab explosion in Hawaii

I was first alerted of this via the Division of Chemical Health and Safety's listserv; it has only gotten worse. From Hawaii News Now (the website of the three Honolulu television stations), the story: 
MANOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Officials say the 29-year-old researcher seriously injured in an explosion at a University of Hawaii lab Wednesday was conducting a routine experiment and handling relatively stable compounds when something went very wrong. 
"Something happened out of the ordinary and we don't know what that is yet," Brian Taylor, dean of UH-Manoa's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, told reporters at a news conference Thursday. 
Post-doctoral fellow Thea Ekins-Coward lost an arm and suffered other injuries in the explosion, which happened about 6 p.m. Wednesday in a basement lab at the Pacific Ocean Sciences and Technology Building. 
 On Thursday, engineers determined the building where the explosion occurred remains structurally sound, and employees and students will be allowed to return Friday.
The university is reviewing its protocols and safety procedures in the wake of the explosion, and reaching out to experts nationally for assistance on the investigation. 
Ekins-Coward was conducting a routine experiment -- something that had been done every day since 2008 -- when the explosion happened in the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute lab, UH officials said. They said she was working with hydrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide...
The morning news reports were pretty bad, but I didn't understand why the Chancellor of the school decided to hold a press conference (with the EH&S director telling us all about Dr. Ekins-Coward's safety training from the university) until I saw the above news report that she has been quite seriously injured.

Twitter report from Hawaii prof. Hope Jahren on the story. 

18 comments:

  1. I'm confused as to why the cause of the explosion is considered a mystery. It was the hydrogen!

    Just from reading the passage you quoted: it says in the opening of the article that the compounds are generally considered stable. Hydrogen is definitely NOT stable, given its flammability and is difficulty to handle, since its tiny size means it can easily leak out of air-tight containers and junctions in vacuum systems. It caused an explosion in a lab I worked in, when there was a spark across two electrodes used in the electrolysis of water. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured; but that has everything to do with chance. It's unfortunate, that this post-doc was not as lucky.

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  2. On a somewhat interesting note- she had apparently gotten married a couple of years ago

    http://www.theknot.com/wedding/Thea-and-Amy

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    1. What a bizarre thing to link to?

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    2. The only reason I could think of why this could be relevant, would be if anon 1:30 was trying to say that married postdocs are more accident prone or easily distracted? Or maybe the point was that lab accidents often have untold secondary repercussions in the lives of friends and family members? Either way, definitely bizarre and potentially tasteless..

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    3. Yes, I agree. Very creepy to post that link in this context. Almost stalker-y.

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    4. Anonymous 4:41, the only person on the internet whose first response isn't to google the unfortunate and see what they can find.

      Sure, her papers would also be informative, but Calm Down.

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    5. I'm sorry whatever your intent, I am voting for tasteless...
      (I am not a previous poster in this thread)

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    6. This particular thread is not productive.

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  3. Nothing is EVER routine when you are dealing with hydrogen.

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  4. Why is her wedding information at all relevant to this incident? CJ, please consider deleting the victim's personal information.

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    1. I certainly don't find it relevant (and find it annoying that it was posted), but I tend not to delete comments.

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  5. I agree that the wedding information isn't particularly relevant. I do remember seeing a link on Twitter to Dr. Eakins-Coward's spouse's blog, however. It talks about the big and small tribulations of being a following partner, especially those that come with international relocations (think spousal visas), even when nominally to someplace most of us would consider paradise on earth. Given the way that most post-doctoral fellows are treated under employment law, things are about to get really hard for both of them. The immediate costs of the hospitalization may be covered under health insurance, but the longer term costs of rehabilitation and residual disability probably won't be, given how assidiously the hosting institutions assert that no employeer-employee relation exists with fellows (i.e. low chances at workman's comp). Similarly, most post-docs don't pay FICA (again because they are no considered employees), which curtails access to social security disability benefits. It's sobering to think about how quickly life has changed for this family, and how fragile an existence most post-docs are living.

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    1. Couldn't have said it better, myself.

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    2. That is why I put that link! Watch how the institution and system will try to screw her out rightful compensation.

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    3. @moleculargeek is on the money about this...
      the university has a very poor track record and history of doing the right thing instead of just covering up or hiding these incidents...
      for example, just take a look at dean hall named after professor lyman dean...
      lyman dean is notorious for stealing the work of alice ball
      after she died while trying to get treatment for the chlorine she inhaled in a chem lab experiment accident at uh:
      http://www.northwesthawaiitimes.com/hnsept07.htm
      http://scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/handle/10125/1837
      she died alone, in pain and pretty much forgotten…
      her death certificate was even altered...

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    4. Seriously you omitted the fact that that is a one-hundred year old story? This is pathetic...

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