A high profile case of student poisoning by N-Nitrosodimethylamine at Fudan University in Shanghai and an explosion of an abandoned laboratory at Nanjing University of Science and Technology in recent months have added to concerns about campus safety and led to a tightening of rules on the use of hazardous chemicals and other poisons in laboratories in China.
A 28 years old student at Shanghai's Fudan University died in April after being poisoned. It was reported he was poisoned by his roommate, who was accused of intentionally killing the victim after he took the deadly chemical compound N-Nitrosodimethylamine from a laboratory and put it into the water dispenser in their dormitory. The explosion at Nanjing University of Science and Technology occurred while construction workers were demolishing an old and abandoned laboratory. It was reported the explosion was due to the cutting of gas cylinder left behind in the abandoned laboratory. One worker died and three other were injured.
China's Ministry of Education afterwards issued a circular on "Notice on Further Strengthening the Management of Laboratory Dangerous Chemicals 進一步加強高等學校實驗室危險化學品安全管理工作的通知". It requires universities to improve the storage, use and disposal of chemicals used for scientific experiments, conscientiously implement the "Dangerous Chemicals Regulations" and other relevant regulations, and resolutely prevent such accidents from recurring. It also requires local governments and other authorities to ensure that the regulations are implemented.
HKUST has two research institutes in China, namely Fok Ying Tung Graduate School in Nansha and Shenzhen Research Institute in Shenzhen. We also have many research projects collaborated with and conducted in a number of universities in different provinces across China. It is important that the projects' principal investigators are aware of the statutory requirement on chemical safety management in laboratories in China.
The main requirements stipulated in the Notice are summarized as follows:
- University should enhance the existing laboratory dangerous chemicals management system; refine the management structure; further define clearly the laboratory hazardous chemicals safety management responsibilities and strictly implement the entire procedures for purchase, use, recycling and disposal of dangerous chemicals to ensure safety.
- For highly toxic chemicals, university should strictly implement the required management procedures of "Five doubles五雙 - Double custody, double collection, double use, double lock, double inventory雙人保管、雙人領取、雙人使用、雙把鎖、雙本賬" . At least two people must be involved in overseeing the storage and use of toxic chemicals. This helps make sure that the chemicals are properly registered, secured as well as used in a controlled condition and the inventories are properly recorded.
- The Notice also requires further reinforcement of the procedures for approving and supervising any abandonment or relocation of old laboratories. Thorough inspections should be made to ensure no flammable or explosive chemicals exist when a laboratory vacates or is demolished. All chemical wastes and unused chemicals should be treated or disposed of in strict accordance with the relevant requirements. The demolition should be carried out by qualified contractor.
- The Notice also requires further improvement in chemical safety education and promotion. It requires university to organize safety education and training to enhance the safety awareness of students and staff; ensure that researchers are fully aware of the potential hazards and risks of their projects, the safe operating procedures and the control measures.
- A new and important requirement in the Notice is that laboratory chemical safety implementation performance will become part of the work performance evaluation of the responsible persons. This ensures that chemical safety management procedures are in place and implemented and laboratory safety responsibilities are carried out.
Guangdong Provincial Department of Education recently also issued a similar notice requiring all colleges and universities across the province to strengthen their laboratory chemical safety management and supervision to prevent accidents. A sound hazardous chemicals management in place can ensure laboratory hazardous chemicals are stored in safe conditions, protect users from overexposure to chemicals during use, and protect the environment from improper disposal. HSEO works with both laboratories in Nansha and Shenzhen to make sure the relevant rules and regulations are complied with and the international good practices are implemented. We welcome enquiries and are delighted to provide assistance to faculty members who require our technical support to their research projects which are being carried out in other parts of China.