The grandiosely named International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) earlier this year published the results of an “investigation” titled Fatal Extraction: Australian Mining’s Damaging Push Into Africa which, amongst other things, describes the serious injuries suffered by Caldwell Sichinga in an industrial accident in Malawi at the Kayelekera uranium mine operated by Australian miner Paladin Energy. The report incorrectly describes the circumstances of the chemical explosion which maimed Mr Sichinga and the ICIJ has failed to correct the obvious error or even to acknowledge an email advising them of the error – this despite the ICIJ soliciting correctional feedback.
It is not disputed that Mr Sichinga was working in a holding tank applying a solution containing methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), a solvent similar to acetone. There was an explosion, the source of ignition being outside the tank. It is, however, incorrect for the report’s authors to state the following:
To ignite, the concentration of MEK where Mr. Sichinga was working would have reached at least 14,000 parts per million. That’s roughly 70 times what the U.S. National Institute of Health and Safety considers a safe exposure and approximately five times what NIOSH considers Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH).
According to Wikipedia:
Concentrations in the air high enough to be flammable are intolerable to humans due to the irritating nature of the vapor.
Toxicology of the Eye confirming MEK’s irritancy:
A concentration of 3,300 ppm has a strong door and is moderately irritating to the eyes and nose of workmen; 10,000 ppm (1%) causes almost intolerable irritation of the eyes and nose after several inhalations.
It is simply not possible for Mr Sichinga to have worked in an intolerably irritating flammable concentration of MEK. So, how did the MEK explode? Heavier-than-air MEK vapour would have concentrated at the bottom of the tank and then flowed out, probably through a drain pipe, to the source of ignition where the MEK concentration would have been at least 14,000 ppm, the resulting flames flashing back to the open container inside the tank, which then exploded.
The Sydney Morning Herald obviously didn’t check the facts before featuring a condensed version of the ICIJ report, as rewritten by the original authors:
Sichinga blames the fire on another worker reportedly seen smoking near the tank. The worker didn’t hear warning shouts, Sichinga believes, and flicked the butt to the ground. For the MEK chemical to ignite in this fashion, it must have been at a concentration at least 70 times the level considered safe within the US.
In fact, Mr Sichinga was working in a concentration of MEK nowhere near 70 times the level considered safe. Leftists have embellished a tragic story so as to damn an “evil” mining company. Pathetic.