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State fines Menlo Park lab after fatal explosion

Membrane Technology & Research faces seven citations, penalties

Membrane Technology & Research in Menlo Park faces seven citations and $55,850 in penalties as a result of a state investigation into the Sept. 2 laboratory explosion that killed a 56-year-old scientist.

Adrian Martin reportedly was adding methane to a tank containing methane, nitrogen, helium and butane when the pressurized cylinder exploded, blowing the scientist 15 feet into an adjoining laboratory and killing him. A woman standing near the door of the lab was thrown clear and survived with a damaged eardrum.

The California Occupational Health and Safety Association (Cal-OSHA) inquiry found that pressure in the cylinder, which was rated for 300 psi, reached nearly triple that level. The attached pressure relief valve was set to vent only after pressure reached 3,360 psi, about 10 times as high as the cylinder could safely contain.

The seven citations include six labeled as "serious." One cites the lab for failing or neglecting to do everything reasonably necessary to protect the life and safety of its employees, in this case, not noting that the tank was only rated for 300 psi.

Other citations penalize the lab for not identifying hazards, lack of training, setting a pressure relief valve to the wrong level, storing other gases in tanks labeled for propane, and failing to check that all equipment was operated within safe parameters. All seven fines add up to $55,850.

According to Cal-OSHA spokesperson Erika Monterroza, the lab has 15 business days from Feb. 24, the date the citations were issued, to appeal. Representatives from Membrane Technology, located at 1360 Willow Road, were not immediately available for comment. The lab had no previous record of safety violations.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that none of the 28 scientists killed at work in 2010 died due to explosions or chemicals.

Mr. Martin left behind a wife, Livia, and a 17-year-old daughter.

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