It’s nearly seven years since I was indirectly involved in a major chemical accident. It’s a day that has been the catalyst for change, the day Chemishield was born. I remember it so clearly. Four analysts, myself included, were in the ‘write up’ area working away when all of a sudden, what sounded like a car crash, erupted from the lab. It was like someone knocked over all of the HPLCs. CRASH! We looked at each other in astoundment and ran towards the lab. Everything looked normal until one of the analysts pointed out the waste container was halfway across the lab. We looked closer and could see that there was a massive hole in the container. Then we looked down at our feet and there were pools of liquid all over the place. Luckily nobody was in the lab when the container exploded. Upon closer inspection, we could see that even the roof had been sprayed with chemicals as well as numerous pieces of instrumentation throughout the lab. It was like a scene out of a Hitchcock movie – devastation. We quickly evacuated, the lab was shut down and an investigation ensued.
What was the cause of the accident? You see, the disposal process left the laboratory vulnerable. It was up to the analyst to decide what was and what was not compatible together. In this instance, Nitric Acid and Acetonitrile were mixed in the same waste container by an analyst. A reaction occurred over time and the container erupted. Secondly, no labeling system was in place so the contents could not be easily identified at the time…black marker on the side of a container has a tendency to smudge when drenched with solvent. Thirdly, the track and trace system, a paper-based ledger, sparingly used (also destroyed in the accident) left the lab in a vulnerable state. Don’t even get me started on the cost of the accident. Having to pay people to do nothing as the lab was closed. Paying for new instrumentation. The site’s reputation was really damaged leading to investigations, audits etc. This got me thinking. How could I prevent this from happening again? Surely, there must be a solution out there that would address this. And that’s how my journey began towards developing Chemishield…seven years in the making.