NOS: Always read the label

// By Peter Mackay on 10 Sep 2021
NOS: Always read the label

Dangerous goods trainers around the world quite rightly stress the importance of putting the right information on packages of dangerous goods: accurate hazard communication is vital if accidents are to be dealt with promptly and safely. In addition, anyone using dangerous goods in any application needs to know what it is they are handling.

Getting hazard communication wrong can have serious consequence, as the municipal water supply operator at New Baltimore, Michigan, very nearly found out this past July. The water for the 14,000 residents of the town is treated with fluoride to promote goods dental health, as it is in many parts of the world, and for years PVS Chemicals has been supplying New Baltimore with 55-gallon steel drums with a fluoride solution.

On this occasion, a worker opened a pump to transfer the contents of a drum into the day tank when there was “a pretty substantial reaction,” according to Chris Hiltunen, superintendent of the water treatment plant. Rather sensibly, the operator shut down the pump and left the room.

On investigation, it was found that four drums labelled as containing fluoride actually contained 93 per cent sulphuric acid. “It was the most aggressive thing I had ever seen chemical-wise,” Hiltunen told Fox News. He and his crew isolated all the valves, shut the tank off and isolated the room. For its part PVS Chemicals says it accounted for all the drums involved and was sure that there are no further mis-labelled drums at the New Baltimore plant or at any other customer sites. It said this was an isolated incident and blamed under-staffing at its facility as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.


Even when dangerous goods are properly labelled, it is still important to read the labels and be able to understand them. A plumber was injured in Taranaki, New Zealand in August while trying to clear a blocked sink and shower. A shopowner had already tried to do the job with a drain cleaner, based on sulphuric acid, but when he failed he called in assistance. Unfortunately, the plumber he called was either ignorant of the earlier attempt or did not stop to consider the implications of what he was about to do – to add a completely different drain cleaner.

As we are often told, it is never a good idea to mix different chemicals and the two solutions used reacted aggressively. The resulting fumes injured the plumber and led to fire crews from three towns arriving, some of them wearing level 4 gas suits. The fire crew had to call Australia to figure out how to neutralise the mixture.


Finally, here’s another story to put the frighteners on happy drinkers. A man died in Bihar, India in August after being bitten by a snake. It was not the first bite that did it but, being drunk and somewhat out of control, the man grabbed the snake – a young krait – and got his own back by chewing it. The snake wasn’t going to take this lightly and bit the man again, more than ten times on the face.

The man’s family wanted to take him straight to hospital but he refused, saying it was only a baby and would not harm him. However, 12 hours later he died of the poison. 

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