New method of detecting combustible dust uses real-time imaging

Detecting combustible dust
Purdue innovators have created technology to help prevent dust explosions. Photo: Kingsly Ambrose, Purdue University

First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication.

West Lafayette, IN — Using newly developed algorithms, researchers from Purdue University have designed an image- and video-based application to detect combustible dust concentrations suspended in the air.

The application, which the researchers say can be used in agricultural, powder-handling or manufacturing settings, involves capturing images of a suspended dust cloud and then analyzing the light extinction coefficient. In testing, the algorithm was able to recognize 95% of sawdust and 93% of cornstarch particulates in the air, a university press release states, adding that the application was able to distinguish suspended dust from “normal background noise.”

Current technology for detecting dust levels can be expensive and difficult to install in workspaces, and separates dust matter into multiple filters that must be weighed and undergo additional analysis, according to the researchers. In contrast, the new application doesn’t require extended training, is location independent and doesn’t need to be permanently installed.

According to data from the Chemical Safety Board, between 2006 and 2017, 111 combustible dust incidents resulted in 66 worker deaths and 337 injuries in the United States.

“Determining suspended dust concentration allows employers to take appropriate safety measures before any location within the industry forms into an explosive atmosphere,” Kingsly Ambrose, an associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering, said in the release.

The research team, which has worked with the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization to patent the technology, said the application can be used effectively in open and confined spaces.

The study was published online July 21 in the Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries.


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EPA publishes final risk evaluation for methylene chloride

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Photo: California Department of Public Health

Washington — Methylene chloride poses “unreasonable risk” to workers under certain conditions, according to a final risk evaluation recently released by the Environmental Protection Agency, which now is compelled to propose within one year regulatory action to mitigate the chemical’s hazards.

Frequently used for bathtub refinishing, methylene chloride is among the first 10 chemicals under evaluation for potential health and environmental risks under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. In 2014, EPA found that exposure to the chemical may cause cancer, harm to the central nervous system and toxicity to the liver, among other adverse health effects.

The final evaluation, published June 19, is the first to be released for the 10 chemicals. Announced via a notice published in the June 24 Federal Register, the document states methylene chloride poses unreasonable risk to workers involved in numerous operations, including:

  • Plastic and rubber manufacturing
  • Electrical equipment, appliance and component manufacturing
  • Oil and gas drilling, extraction and support activities
  • Adhesive/caulk removal
  • Cold pipe insulation
  • Aerosol and non-aerosol degreasing and cleaning

Additionally, EPA determined an unreasonable risk is not present during the following conditions of use:

  • Domestic manufacture
  • Processing as a reactant
  • Recycling
  • Distribution in commerce
  • Industrial and commercial use as a laboratory chemical
  • Disposal

As required under the Toxic Substances Control Act, which the Lautenberg Act amended, EPA must address risks by proposing within one year regulatory actions such as training, certification, restricted access, and/or ban of commercial use, and then accept public comment on any proposals.

“Releasing the first final risk evaluation marks a key milestone in our efforts to fulfill our responsibilities for ensuring the safety of chemicals already on the market,” Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, assistant administrator of the EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution, said in a June 19 press release. “By following the TSCA process, we can have confidence in our final conclusions and move forward with developing a plan to protect the public from any unreasonable risks.”

In March 2019, EPA published a final rule that prohibits manufacture (including import), processing and distribution of the substance in paint removers for consumer use, as well as requires manufacturers, processors and distributors to notify retailers and others in the supply chain about the ban.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in the release that the action “builds on last year’s ban on consumer sales of certain methylene chloride products and will guide the agency’s efforts to further reduce risks from this chemical.”

Liz Hitchcock, director of the Washington-based advocacy group Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, called on the agency to expedite its regulatory actions, contending in a June 19 statement that “the longer EPA drags its feet, the more lives will be lost.” According to Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, at least 64 people have died from acute exposure to methylene chloride since 1980.

“The time for study and talk is long past,” Hitchcock’s statement reads. “EPA should take immediate action on the danger it has once again recognized in this risk evaluation and finish the job to protect workers. The agency must immediately finalize its proposed ban on commercial use of these products. To wait any longer to protect workers from these dangerous products when EPA has the ability to ban them now is unconscionable and will result in more preventable deaths.”

In April 2019, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families was part of a coalition of groups representing worker rights that filed a lawsuit against EPA and Wheeler for excluding workers in the final rule.

EPA previously solicited comments on problem formation documents for the first 10 chemicals before releasing its first draft risk evaluation – for Pigment Violet 29 – in November 2018. The agency released its draft risk evaluation for methylene chloride in October.

EPA says it plans to release final risk evaluations for the remaining nine of the first 10 chemicals by the end of the year.

OSHA, PHMSA announce prep meetings for UN sessions on GHS, transport of hazardous goods

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Photo: David Bautista/iStockphoto

Washington — OSHA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration will host virtual public meetings June 24 in preparation for a pair of United Nations meetings.

Announced in the June 1 Federal Register, OSHA will gather comments and information ahead of the 39th session of the UN’s Sub-Committee of Experts on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. The sub-committee meeting has been rescheduled for Dec. 9-11, after being postponed from its originally slated dates of July 8-11.

OSHA’s preparatory meeting agenda includes a review of working papers and correspondence group updates, as well as an update on the Regulatory Cooperation Council.

Participants at the PHMSA meeting are expected to discuss proposals for the 57th session of the UN’s Sub-Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods, now scheduled for Nov. 30 to Dec. 8 in Switzerland. The agency is “requesting comments relative to potential new work items that may be considered for inclusion in its international agenda.” PHMSA also will provide updates on “recent actions.”

The PHMSA meeting is slated for 9 a.m. Eastern, followed by the OSHA meeting at 1 p.m.

EPA requests feedback on draft scope documents for 20 ‘high priority’ chemical risk evaluations

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Washington — The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking public comment on draft scope documents for 20 additional chemicals the agency has designated as high-priority substances for risk evaluation under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, according to respective notices published in the April 9 and April 23 Federal Register.

As required under the Lautenberg Act, which amended the Toxic Substances Control Act, EPA was to release a scope document for each chemical by June, detailing hazards, exposures, conditions of use, and potentially exposed or susceptible subpopulations.

Comments are due May 26 for the 13 chemicals outlined in the April 9 Federal Register, and June 8 for the seven other chemicals.

Finalized in a list published in the Dec. 30 Federal Register, the chemicals include:

  • Seven chlorinated solvents
  • Six phthalates, or hormone-disrupting substances, linked to several health-related issues
  • Four flame retardants
  • Formaldehyde
  • One fragrance additive
  • One polymer precursor

EPA previously considered comments on 40 chemicals to prioritize for risk evaluation. Publication of the list in March 2019 triggered a statutory requirement for EPA to designate at least 20 chemicals, each as high and low priority, by Dec. 22.

The 20 chemicals are separate from the first 10 chemicals under current agency evaluation for potential health and environmental risks under the Lautenberg Act.

EPA notes that chemicals identified as high priority must undergo a three-year evaluation for potential health and environmental risks but adds that the designation “is not a finding of unreasonable risk.”