BY MAIRE O’NEILL
A Los Alamos National Laboratory waste management employee suffered multiple laceration injuries Sep. 14 when a reaction vessel detonated as the worker was conducting routine operations synthesizing 1,3-diazide-2,2-dinitro-propane at Technical Area 35, Building 85, according to correspondence between with the New Mexico Environment posted on the LANL electronic reading page.
A statement released by a Lab spokesman late Monday afternoon confirms that a small chemical reaction occurred which was contained in a chemical hood and says no radioactive material was involved and no contamination occurred.
“The employee involved was wearing proper personal protective equipment, but did sustain lacerations primarily on the hands, due to broken glassware. The employee was initially treated at Los Alamos Medical Center and later at UNM Hospital. The employee was released from the hospital and is back at work,” the statement says. “The Laboratory is investigating the cause of the chemical reaction, and is reviewing all applicable processes and procedures associated with this type of work at this facility.”
Correspondence shared on the reading page indicates LANL Environmental Protection & Compliance were notified by Emergency Management & Response personnel that two unstable chemicals/containers were identified after the incident. The chemical was identified as unstable HE crystalized material and two 50 ml containers were involved.
LANL personnel determined the unstable chemicals/containers were shock-sensitive and posed a imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment. A permit was requested from the NMED Hazardous Waste Bureau to conduct “emergency treatment” under the Code of Federal Regulations. The safest path forward was determined to be on-site at TA 35 through contained vessel detonation with any residual material to be collected and properly managed.
NMED issued an emergency permit requiring that the specific activities conducted to render the material inert would be conveyed to NMED with five days after the emergency activity was completed and no later than Sept. 26.
Upon assessment of the hood, Los Alamos National Security Emergency Management determined the two containers were unstable due to heat exposure and the presence of etching on the vessel interior and that their condition “posed an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment”. LANS determined that the safest response was to emergency treatment on site by detonating the material in a total containment vessel.
“The emergency treatment was effective and no waste residual or other hazardous materials remained after the treatment,” the LANS five-day report letter states.