Today in Hazmat History – April 12

Hazmat History

By Richard T. Cartwright, PE, CHMM, (IHMM, AHMP and APICS) Fellow

The saying, “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it” is more than a cliché. It is a reminder that we must constantly be learning from the past. Here’s a look back at major historical events that happened today in the world of hazardous materials.

April 12, 1981

First American Space Shuttle, Columbia, was launched into space.

April 12, 1968

Nerve gas sprayed at U.S. Army Dugway Proving Grounds resulted in a sudden outbreak of sheep deaths in Skull Valley, Utah. Investigation made by the National Communicable Disease Center was hampered by the Army’s initial denial of responsibility and slowness to provide adequate gas samples for independent agencies. Debacle led to overhaul of procedures concerning development of chemical weapons.

April 12, 1961

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to travel into space. To Soviet propagandists, his historic journey lasting 1 hour and 48 minutes was evidence of supremacy of communism over capitalism. Soviet space program achievements during the Cold War space race included first animal in orbit, first large scientific satellite, first man, first woman, first three men, first spacewalk, first spacecraft to impact the moon, first to orbit the moon, first to impact Venus, and first craft to soft-land on the moon. Eventually with a budget 10 times larger than the Soviet space budget, American astronauts were the first to walk on the moon in 1969.

April 12, 1955

Salk vaccine against polio was announced to be “safe, effective and

potent,” after a year-long field trial funded by a March of Four Billion Dimes. The announcement was made on the 10th anniversary of the death of Franklin Roosevelt (1945); the U.S. president who was a victim of the disease.

April 12, 1924

Peter Safar, American physician, was born in Austria. He is best known for pioneering use of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which is credited with saving countless lives. His technique was later combined with chest compressions, producing what’s known today as cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. Although there are ancient references to the apparent use of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in the Bible, the technique fell out of practice until rediscovered by Safar. Safar survived a Nazi labor camp before emigrating to the U.S. after WWII.

April 12, 1908

Fire broke out at Boston Blacking Company, which made shoes and shoe adhesives. Heavy winds quickly spread fire to nearby factories and homes. Twelve people died and more than 17,000 became homeless when one-fourth of Chelsea, Mass. was wiped out. Oil storage facilities across the shore from Boston went up in flames. For a time it seemed that the large Standard Oil refinery would also burn down. This would have endangered the entire city of Boston. Good news: a sizable contingent of firefighters worked all day to protect the refinery, saving Boston. Bad news: it took 10 years for Chelsea to be completely rebuilt.

April 12, 1888

A French newspaper mistakenly published an obituary for Albert Nobel, Swedish inventor of dynamite, calling him “a merchant of death.” Mistake was that it was actually Albert’s brother, Ludwig Nobel, who had just died (at age 56, due to heart trouble). Shocked by the newspaper’s report, Albert Nobel began to seek a change in public opinion, which led to his decision to establish the Nobel Prizes.

April 12, 1877

A catcher’s mask was used as personal protective equipment for the first time in a baseball game.

April 12, 1665

The Black Death plague epidemic began in London, England, where 35,000 people died. The epidemic was called “black death” due to the black lumps that foretold its presence in a victim’s body, and for its inevitable result. The plague was spread by fleas that lived as parasites on rats. The rat population exploded after a mild winter did not massively decrease the rat population followed by a hot spring and summer when many female rats gave birth to two litters. This combined with the filth that littered London provided the perfect environment for London to be consumed by another Great Plague.

April 12, 1633

A Papal-appointed inquisition trial began for Italian physicist and astronomer, Galileo Galilei, for his belief the Earth revolves around the sun, which was deemed heretical by the Catholic Church. After his conviction, Galileo agreed not to teach the heresy anymore and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. It took more than 300 years for the Church to admit that Galileo was right and to clear his name of heresy.

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