May 15, 2020
In this third edition of the OWSD Nigeria National Chapter University of Port Harcourt Branch series of scientific communications, Kaine Okorosaye-Orubite educates us in chemical safety.
Chemical safety and chemical security are best practices observed in the application of chemicals so as to minimize adverse effects of chemicals on the environment, infrastructure and life.Scientists are always in contact with chemicals as often as they do researches. Some of these chemicals are hazardous; understanding safety and security concerns about them is therefore pertinent. Abdou (2014) observed that educational and research institutions have been slower in adopting safety and security programs than the industries. In a technological laden world everyone comes across chemicals even in our homes. How much information do we have about the chemicals we come across? Have we bothered about the safety and security of the chemicals used? How many persons have access to them for other purposes apart from the intended use? These are some of the issues this brief write-up seeks to address.
1. Definition of terms
Chemicals are substances produced or used in a process (reaction) involving changes to atoms and molecules. They are distinct compounds or substances artificially prepared or purified.
ii. Chemical safety
Chemical safety involves protection of human health and the environment by controlling the extent of exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals.
iii. Chemical security
Chemical security centres on preventive measures designed to reduce the risk of deliberate removal (theft) and misuse of a chemical with the intent of committing crime or to cause harm.
Vulnerability depicts a flaw or weakness in a system, internal controls, physical protection or security procedures that may result in unauthorized access to facilities, chemicals or materials.
2. Relationship between chemical safety and chemical security
Both chemical safety and chemical security are geared towards protecting life and the environment and necessary in a research setting. Chemical safety centres on preventive measures in design and control of a chemical. It depicts a proposal of likelihood of a danger and possible preventive measures. For example in the laboratory, corrosive chemicals are labeled and kept separately. Or signs like “dispose properly could cause damage to plants”.
In contrast, chemical security is the degree of protection against the MISUSE of a chemical in terms of damage it could cause to life and the environment through theft, loss or criminal activities. Thus while chemical safety aims at precautions taken during INTENTIONAL use of a chemical, chemical security further highlights possible UNINTENTIONAL use or MISUSE of the chemical that can be of danger to life and the environment while soliciting measures to guard against such activities.
3. Conflict between chemical safety and chemical security
Information on chemical safety can constitute chemical security risk. Labels on chemicals that provide safety information can at the same time inspire harmful intentions or even crime.
Resolution of conflict between chemical safety and chemical security
The conflict between chemical safety and security can be resolved by observing chemical management best practices.
4. Why chemical security awareness?
Recent attacks like:
- Explosion of pipelines,
- Fire outbreaks
- Acid baths
- Deliberate food poisoning etc,
were traced to chemicals, explosives and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) made from chemicals hence the need for Chemical Security awareness. Various countries have promulgated laws to protect the use chemicals to forestall these criminal acts. The Nigerian senate passed the “Chemical Weapons Prohibition Bill” on Wednesday, May 21, 2018 and placed some chemicals on prohibition list.
5. Sources of chemicals of security concern
- Illegal local manufacturers
- Universities and Research institutes
- Theft and insincerity among authorized users
- Diversion of chemicals
6. Awareness and Sensitization
In order to live in a world free of chemical weapons, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was created on 29th April 1997 with 193 member states. The goal is “to prevent chemistry from ever again being used for warfare thereby strengthening international security”. OPCW cooperates with the chemical industry to educate and reach out to the society about chemical safety. To this end in Nigeria, the United States Department of State’s Chemicals Security Program (CSP) in conjunction with associations like the Chemical Society of Nigeria (CSN) holds workshops and training for researchers, industrialists and manufacturers to create awareness and sensitization in chemical safety and chemicals security.
A survey of OPCW list reports that most of the chemicals used by criminals are locally and cheaply available. Some of them are dual - use chemicals that are used even in homes.
Dual-use chemicals are chemicals that can be used for both beneficial and harmful purposes (Douglas et al 2014).
7. Some chemicals of serious security challenge in Nigeria are:
- Ammonium sulphate
- Potassium chlorate
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Urea Nitrate
- Urea formaldehyde
- Sulphur powder, Aluminum powder
- Nitro glycerin
- Ammonium sulphate
- Sodium chlorate
Do you know that H2O2 used as one of the chemicals in making sanitizers is a dual-use chemical? It is also used in making explosives?
In our homes we come across common dual-use chemicals and chemical products such as:
- “Hypo” bleaching solution
- Insecticides, Pesticides and Rodenticides
- Ammonium nitrate ( fertilizer)
- Camphor balls
These chemicals are beneficial and harmful at the same time in our homes.
8. Vulnerability to chemical security
It is important to recognize vulnerabilities and do whatever is necessary to reduce or eliminate risk.
i. As a researcher in a tertiary institution, vulnerabilities may include:
- Chemical logos are not properly placed on chemicals.
- Transporting chemicals using students, commercial passenger or personal vehicles
- Security operatives are not trained on chemical safety/security to enforce chemical security measures.
- Inadequate protection of laboratory and facilities against theft and loss.
- Working with disgruntled staff that could steal or sell chemicals for a pittance.
- Purchase of chemicals from illegal distributors.
- Insufficient information of chemicals used.
ii. In our homes, vulnerabilities may include:
- Purchase of chemicals from illegal sources
- Improper information about the other uses of the chemical
- Use of adulterated chemicals
- Carelessness on part of users in storage and disposal
- Other family members not aware of chemicals in the home
9. Some measures to reduce/eliminate chemical safety/security challenges
- Purchase chemicals from legal and approved distributors
- Keep chemicals away from wrong persons
- Regularly keep chart of chemicals dispensed so as to identify loss.
- Chemical safety and security awareness training for staff, students and security personnel in tertiary institutions.
- Efficiently track movement of chemicals within your laboratory.
- Be aware of the dual-use properties of chemicals.
- Dispose of chemical waste properly
10. Some tips to chemical safety and chemical security at home
The saying goes that “charity begins at home”. Let us practice chemical safety and security in our little corner.
- Always label home used chemicals properly.
- Make sure Rodenticides and pesticides are not kept near food or food materials.
- Let everyone in the home know the dangers of dual-use chemicals.
- Do not take hazardous chemicals out of their original containers. If you must, properly label the container
- After using any chemical wash your hands or any part of the body with soap and water.
- When Rodenticides and pesticides are used to kill rodents or insects, dig a hole and bury them. They could be poison to other animals in the environment if carelessly disposed off.
11. Chemical safety/Chemical Security and COVID-19
In these days where the media is saturated with different unconfirmed medications as cure for the ravaging Coronavirus, caution is the word. Remember that medicines or drugs are chemicals and should be treated as such. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends regular washing of hands or using alcohol based hand sanitizers. Many persons have resorted to the production of hand sanitizers. The following chemical safety/security tips are necessary to observe:
- Buy sanitizers from reputable chemicals shops or chemists
- If you must prepare sanitizers, buy chemicals from authorized agents and strictly follow the recommended methods
- Properly dispose of or store leftover chemicals
- Keep sanitizers in properly labeled containers
- Alcohol is a dual-use chemical and should be kept away from children and adults for possible abuse
- Do not drink mixtures or concoctions prepared from unknown or unqualified sources.
- Hydrogen peroxide is on prohibition list and should be handled with care.
Chemical safety/chemical security best practices are important for a safe working environment as well as danger free homes. Awareness is not restricted to only researchers, laboratory staff, or Security operatives. Since chemicals are used in one form or the other by everyone especially women, all hands must be on deck to save our society. Chemical safety/security measures should be a lifestyle for us all.
Abdou M. Wafaa. (2014); To professionals: chemical safety and chemical security overview; AJCE , 4 (3), Special Issue (Part II) ISSN 2227-5835 .
Douglas B Walters, Pauline Ho , Jasper Hardesty (2015); Safety, Security and dual -use chemicals, Journal of Chemical Health and Safety, 22 (5): 3–16
Engaging the chemical industry associations; Note by the Director General C24/DG.17 at the OPCW conference of the States parties, 24th session 25–29 November 2019: 1–12
Nigerian Regional Chemical Security Awareness Workshop, 7–9 March 2018 organised by the chemical Society of Nigeria and sponsored by the United State’s Department of State, Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
Chemical security and vulnerability Assessment and security plan development workshop, 11–14 February 2020, Port Harcourt, Nigeria.