September 2011

Welcome to the September 2011 issue of the NCEC Newsletter.

The email version of the newsletter has a new look - this is to tie in with the changes we're making to our website, which will be rolled out over the next few weeks. We've listened to feedback from customers and other website visitors, and we hope that you'll find the site even better than before, and easier to navigate. Let us know what you think!

We have some exciting news for our Chemdata® and Pocket Chemdata® customers - we are developing Pocket Chemdata® for AndroidTM, and are planning to release the first issue later this year. Keep watching this newsletter and our Twitter feed for updates.

This newsletter contains the first in a new series of articles illustrating some of the work we do - NCEC in Action. Emergency response is a huge part of our work, but we do a lot more than that.

Finally, would you like to join NCEC? We are looking for someone to join our team at Harwell, as a Regulatory Affairs Consultant - see the People News section for more information.

If there is anything that you would like to see in future newsletters, please let us know. We are always happy to receive suggestions and feedback - you can contact us by emailing or calling +44 (0)870 190 6621.

Happy reading!

Bill Atkinson

Emergency Response Knowledge Leader


Follow ncec_uk on Twitter


We are in the midst of updating our website - you may have already noticed one or two changes. We will be changing our 'look' over the next few weeks, but the main change will be in the site navigation: we hope that the 'new' site will make it easier for both new site visitors and our existing customers to find what they are looking for.

Do let us have any comments or questions about the site.

We have also started a Twitter for our news - we'll be tweeting all the things we normally issue a news item for, and more.

Follow ncec_uk on Twitter



Pocket Chemdata® for AndroidTM

Android droidFollowing consultation with our existing Pocket Chemdata® and Chemdata® customers, we are very pleased to announce that we are now developing an Android version of Pocket Chemdata®. The new version is expected to be ready for release late this year, and will be designed to run on Android smartphones and tablet devices.

Android is a trademark of Google, Inc. Droid logo is used according to terms described in the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution License.

NCEC and The Wercs - A New Partnership

NCEC will be making some changes to our SDS* Authoring services over the next few weeks. We are in the process of implementing a new SDS Authoring system from The Wercs that will enhance and extend the services that we are able to provide.

NCEC and The Wercs logos

The new software will enable us to provide:

  • SDS compliant with EU requirements (REACH and CLP)
  • SDS compliant with other international requirements (e.g. USA, Canada)
  • Translations of SDS in a wider range of languages
  • Regulatory monitoring – The Wercs SDS system is integrated with the ChemAdvisor Loli database of regulatory data, which will enable us to provide customers with regular reports of where changes in international regulatory data affect their products and ingredients

*Safety data sheets (SDSs) provide important information to users for managing chemicals safely at work, and if your business involves supplying hazardous chemicals they are a legal requirement.

Recent changes in EU Regulations mean that many companies' SDSs will require updating to the new format. Regulation (EU) 453/2010 which came into force in December 2010 amends Annex II of the Regulation (EC) 1907/2996 (REACH) specifies the new format of and defines what information must be included in the 16 section SDS with new sub-sections. Suppliers and distributors of preparations (mixtures) that are already on the market (as of December 2010) have until December 2012 to update their SDSs to the new format. Any new products should have SDSs compliant with the new requirements now.

The Dangers of 'Cheap' Vodka

I'm not talking about the supermarket 'no frills' own-brand stuff (I find it's perfectly fine for making fruit liqueurs if not vodka martinis!), but the explosion and fire at an industrial unit in Boston, Lincolnshire in July has highlighted the illegal manufacture of drinking spirits [see articles here and here]. Why should this matter? Well, apart from the five people killed and one person seriously injured during the explosion, what they were producing was hazardous to the health of anyone unfortunate enough to consume it.

NCEC received information that the facility mentioned above was preparing 'vodka' by mixing denatured alcohol (denaturing is the process where other chemicals are added to ethanol to made it unfit for human consumption - denatured alcohol is also known as Industrial Methylated Spirits or IMS), pure ethanol and water to get to the desired concentration of 'alcohol' (usually 37.5 - 40%). The reason for doing this is that most commercial denatured alcohol is clear and while it contains other alcohols such as methanol or isopropyl alcohol (propan-2-ol), you cannot usually taste the difference from ethanol, plus it doesn't carry excise duty.

Some denatured alcohol does contain flavourings to prevent accidental consumption, but you can bet that those are not usually chosen by criminal gangs trying to pass off their concoctions as vodka. It is a very profitable scam: one criminal arrested in Manchester was alleged to have made over 10m from it.

The other way of producing illicit alcohol is from distillation. Typically potatoes are pressed to remove starchy water, then this is fermented using yeast to produce alcohol which is then distilled. Unfortunately amateur distillation produces an impure product that also contains poisonous alcohols such as methanol, propanol and isopropanol.

This contamination is a problem as while you can safely drink ethanol (which is the alcohol in beverages), methanol and other alcohols are poisonous. The problem with methanol in particular is how it is broken down in the body - it is broken down to metabolites which include formaldehyde (used to preserve dead bodies) and formic acid (the sting in ants and nettles), neither of which is very good for you. Persistent intake of methanol can lead to blindness or even death. However, the enzyme mechanism that breaks down the methanol in this way is in selective competition with ethanol, hence the 'antidote' to methanol ingestion is to administer ethanol - the purer the better. For interest, red wines, ciders and whole fruit tend to have a slightly higher natural methanol content which comes from the breakdown of pectin (which derives from fruit skin and pips). It's one reason why some wines and ciders can give you a stronger hangover.

For the Lincolnshire vodka, the effects would of course be dependent on how much methanol was in the final product and how much someone drank of it; however, news reports say that 'vodka' had already been seized in that area that was unsuitable for consumption due to methanol content. But the sale of fake vodka is a national problem. In fact, even sticking to a 'recognised' label may not guarantee provenance. Seizures have been made of fake bottles bearing the branding of 'Smirnoff' or 'Glen's' - and there are others - on an industrial scale.

There can be subtle clues that vodka may be fake. It is sold cheaply, the fill levels in the bottles vary, the labels are slightly wonky or contain mistakes or the metal seals may be broken. But if you are buying vodka in a club or pub, how would you know? Probably you wouldn't. Personally I tend not to drink vodka much anyway and very rarely in clubs.



A new series of articles featuring some of the work that we do.

Container ship

NCEC and Ports

Falmouth docks fire forces people out of homes overnight

UK readers may remember seeing this incident, which involved 240 acetylene cylinders stored next to a warehouse at Falmouth Docks, in the news in June. NCEC's Emergency Responders were involved, providing advice to the emergency services. Acetylene is highly flammable, but the major risk in a fire is from the cylinders in which it is contained, which may rupture suddenly without warning when subjected to heat. We were able to offer advice in dealing with the situation, specifically on how long to cool the remaining intact cylinders, the monitoring of the heated cylinders and in the setting up of an appropriately sized exclusion zone to maintain the safety of persons in and around the docks.

NCEC doesn't only work in the UK - we provide advice and support worldwide. Many ports and shipping companies use Chemdata, our chemical hazard database, to provide on-the-spot information and advice, and a number also use Carechem Marine, which is our emergency response service for maritime chemical transport. Carechem Marine allows 24/7/365 access to our Emergency Responders, who use our extensive chemical response databases and our modelling tool ChemSIS to provide detailed and comprehensive advice.



NCEC at Ambulex 2011

Ambulex 2011

On Thursday 7th July, NCEC Emergency Responder John Jones and Technical Manager Helen White attended Ambulex 2011 at the Fire Service College in Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire. The event included a tour of the Fire Service College incident ground, during which they visited the fire investigation training units, drove along the M96 motorway, and saw the marine and aviation fire simulators. The tour guide, a Fire Officer on secondment from West Midlands Fire & Rescue Service, described the intense training that candidates undergo and the different challenges that each structure/scenario presents to operational and tactical fire fighting decisions.

Ambulex 2011 - RTA mock-upThe event itself was well attended, with representatives from ambulance manufacturers and outfitters, private ambulance companies, voluntary aid organisations, and medical training companies.  Helen and John were invited to watch the treatment and extrication of a car vs. pedestrian casualty, as demonstrated by clinicians and experts in pre-hospital emergency medicine from Oxford University and the John Radcliffe Hospital. The highly sophisticated manikin used for the demonstration simulated breathing, pulse, blood pressure and bleeding as well as speaking and responding to treatment via a remote operator.

As most calls to the NCEC from the emergency services come from the UK Fire & Rescue Services, it was good to have the opportunity to build links with our Ambulance colleagues, especially those involved in Hazardous Area Response Teams (HART), who are increasingly involved in HazMat incidents.

NCEC at Emergency Scotland

Emergency Scotland 2011

NCEC exhibited at Emergency Scotland 2011, in July, at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, Glasgow.

Emergency Scotland 2011 is Scotland's only exhibition for anyone involved in emergency planning, response and recovery, and this year took place alongside the annual Emergency Planning Society (EPS) Resilience Symposium 2011, bringing Category 1, 2 and 3 Responders together under one roof.

It was a busy two days of meeting and greeting with much to see as the scale of the event allowed for large exhibits, including a new category of fire engine accommodating several services into one. It even housed a boat in its roof! The exhibitors were a mixture of emergency equipment providers, agencies and charitable organisations. Overall, this was a great opportunity to discover other response teams and discuss new developments in emergency planning.



New NCEC Staff

Sarah Bull, Specialist Toxicology Consultant

Sarah Bull photo

Sarah Bull joined NCEC as a specialist toxicology consultant in August 2011 having previously worked as a senior toxicologist at the Health Protection Agency, where she provided toxicology advice to Government agencies and various other stakeholders. She has a PhD in toxicology and over 15 years' experience working in various areas, including veterinary, regulatory and in vitro toxicology.

As a member of NCEC's staff, part of Sarah's remit is to utilise her key areas of expertise, which lie in the toxicology and risk assessment of contaminated land, air, water and waste, as well as in emergency response, to increase the knowledge base of our emergency responders and other NCEC staff, with the joint aims of enhancing the service provided to callers and to our customers, and of providing a more rounded response.

Having worked at the Health Protection Agency, Sarah can also contribute to chemical and environmental risk assessments, adding value through her understanding of the toxicology behind statutory and non-statutory guideline values.

Sarah teaches on a number of toxicology and environment/public health MSc courses and is a scientific reviewer for several scientific journals. She is able to provide generic or bespoke training courses to anyone exposed directly (e.g. chemical industry workers) or indirectly (e.g. fire services) to chemicals on various aspects of toxicology, ranging from the basic concepts to more applied scenarios (toxicology related to smoke, contaminated land, water or waste and emergency response). Alternatively she can deliver chemical-specific courses tailored to individual need, in chemicals such as carbon monoxide, asbestos or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or more in-detail toxicology courses. She will also be contributing to existing courses such as Chemical Spill Response and Hazmat 1st Response by expanding the health and first aid information provided.

If you would like more information about our range of training courses, or would like to talk to us about setting up a bespoke course, please contact us.

Mark Green, Emergency Responder

Mark Green photo

Mark Green joined the Emergency Response team in July 2011. Prior to joining NCEC, Mark worked for various organisations in laboratory environments, ranging from power generation to pharmaceutical analysis. He studied HND Chemistry at Fife College before attending St Andrews University for a further two years to attain his degree. Originally from Fife, he has moved around the UK living in Lancaster, Plymouth and Andover before relocating to Chilton to work at the NCEC. Mark has also been an instructor for the Air Cadets and lectured cadets on various topics including air navigation. His hobbies include keeping tropical fish which at present involves a 400 litre display tank!




Job Opportunity - Come and Join us at NCEC

We are looking for someone to join the NCEC team at Harwell, as a Regulatory Affairs Consultant - if you are highly motivated, dynamic and flexible, this could be the position for you.

The ideal candidate for this role will have a scientific, technical or engineering degree (or other qualification(s) along with relevant industrial experience) coupled with excellent communication and customer service skills, and will also be well versed in hazard classification systems and current legislation.

We offer a competitive remuneration package and excellent benefits, so to apply, go to and click on UK - Oxford, then Search. If you would like information on other job opportunities with AEA, please visit our careers page.


Disposal of Ethanol

NCEC recently received a call from a fire fighter who required disposal advice for a large quantity of ethanol in containers of mixed sizes.

Our Emergency Responder advised the caller of the hazards of the product, namely that it is highly flammable, can form explosive mixtures with air, is narcotic in high concentrations, may be irritant, and has limited evidence of carcinogenic effects. The Emergency Responder recommended that the containers should be stored away from ignition sources in a well-ventilated area. Furthermore, it was suggested that the product was stored away from acids, oxidisers, alkaline earth metals and metal powders, due to the potential for reaction.

Immediate access to the chemical hazards and incompatibilities allows incidents such as this one to be closed more quickly, and reduces the risk to emergency personnel and the public.

Hydrogen Peroxide Leak

NCEC recently received a call regarding a leak of hydrogen peroxide from a 1000 litre IBC at a waste treatment works. The caller required clean up advice.

Our Emergency Responder advised the caller of the hazards of hydrogen peroxide, i.e. it is oxidising, corrosive and harmful, and can decompose violently upon heating. The Emergency Responder recommended that liquid tight chemical protective clothing with breathing apparatus should be worn when dealing with the leaked material, and that it should be adsorbed on to an inert non-combustible material, such as sand. The caller explained that there was a ready supply of salt and wanted to know if this was suitable. Our Emergency Responder advised that there was no evidence of hazardous reactions, but that salt is water soluble and so would dissolve in the hydrogen peroxide. The caller had proposed washing the remainder of the leaked material into the site drains, but our Emergency Responder explained that contact with metal grids, etc. would catalyse the decomposition of the hydrogen peroxide, creating an oxygen-enriched atmosphere in a confined space, thereby increasing the risk of fire and explosion.

Immediate access to qualified chemists ensures that the most appropriate actions and suitable precautions are taken. Our Emergency Responders draw on their academic knowledge, industrial experience, and specialist training at the NCEC to protect people, property, and the environment.




Emergency Services Show 2011

23 to 24 November, Stoneleigh Park, Coventry


Emergency Services Show

From international incidents to natural disasters, unprecedented events have taken place around the world over the past year. The Emergency Services Show and Conference 2011 remains the key event for anyone involved in emergency planning, response or recovery, both in the UK and abroad, to unite and address these threats and challenges.

Now in its sixth year, this firmly established show allows a key gathering of emergency and resilience professionals to discuss multi-agency collaboration, best practice, ideas and initiatives.

A wide variety of professional, government and voluntary response organisations and personnel will be at Stoneleigh Park to learn about the latest equipment and innovations, network and listen to industry experts. Attendees will also be able to explore how they can make vital cost savings with equipment and service suppliers.

We will be on stand E65.

ChemSpec Middle East

29 to 30 November 2011, Dubai, UAE

Chemspec Middle East is the region's only dedicated event for custom, fine and speciality chemicals professionals, manufacturers, suppliers and end-users from a wealth of sectors.

As global chemical production continues to shift away from its traditional sources, the Middle East is expected to play an increasingly important role in the production of future chemical and downstream petrochemical products.

We will be on stand F21.

Hazmat 2012 Update

6 to 7 March 2012 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Birmingham

If you have been meaning to contact us about presenting, but not yet got around to it, please do get in touch. We still have a few spaces for speakers, particularly for anyone with information on response training, advances in response equipment and/or techniques, and preparation for major events or incidents, such as next year's Olympics. You can contact us directly or via the form on our website.

The registration form will be on our website within the next week or so - we will tweet when it's up. If you book before 20/12/11, you can save £75 per delegate, so do take advantage of this!

If you have already expressed interest in attending, thank you, and we will be getting in touch with you shortly.


New dates have just been announced for two of our popular open courses, both to be held at the Gemini Building, Harwell. Chemical Spill Response will be on 13 March 2012 and Hazmat 1st Response will be on 15 March 2012.

Hazmat 1st Response

5 October 2011 - Humberside Fire & Rescue Service HQ, Hull

15 March 2012 - Gemini Building, Harwell

A one-day training course to prepare you and your organisation for dealing with a chemical incident. The course provides practical and up-to-date information on what is expected of you during a hazmat incident.

Cost: £315 + VAT

Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP)

5 December 2011- Gemini Building, Harwell

A one day course which will help you understand the background of CLP and GHS, understand the requirements outlined in the legislation and will inform you of the deadlines for compliance, as well as helping you with classification.

Cost: £295 + VAT (per course)

Making COSHH Assessments

27 October 2011- Gemini Building, Harwell

Making COSHH Assessments is presented by the AEA Group's COSHH Competent Assessor. The one-day course will give you an understanding of how to undertake this procedure and will include an overview of the regulations, identification of hazards, SDS interpretation and the effects of chemicals. Most importantly, the last part of the day is given for an open discussion on delegates' own workplace processes to help them consider the hazards, risks and likely exposures involved.

Cost: £215 + VAT

Chemical Spill Response

15 March 2012 - Gemini Building, Harwell

Chemical Spill Response is a one-day training course presented by one of NCEC's highly experienced Emergency Responders, and is aimed at those who work in a chemical environment who are setting up, or already have, a Spill Response team in their workplace.

Cost: £315 + VAT

For more information about our training courses please see our website; to book a place or ask about our tailored and in-house courses, please contact us.

[end of newsletter]