Sunday, 19 March 2017

10:47 – When I took Colin out around 0730 it was exactly freezing with a stiff breeze. The snow flurries/showers forecast for overnight never showed up, other than as a very light dusting. Still, Ray’s Weather does a pretty good job of forecasting. It’s notoriously difficult to predict weather at all, and harder still for a location sitting on top of a mountain.

Speaking of which, I never particularly trusted the National Weather Service forecasts. As it turns out, I had good reason. The latest scandal is the NWS concealing an updated forecast, supposedly for the common good. The great blizzard they predicted for the Northeastern US turned out to be a squib. Areas they’d forecast 18 inches of snow for actually ended up getting three to six inches, and some areas for which they’d forecast heavy snows ended up getting little or none. One could write that off to forecasting being inexact, but the problem is that they had an updated forecast that was much more accurate but they chose not to make it public because they apparently believed that reducing the forecast amount of snow would cause people to disregard the dangers.

I’ve seen various estimates that cluster around $3 billion as the total cost to people, businesses and governments of acting on that obsolete forecast. Businesses closed needlessly. State, county, and city governments spent a lot of their snow removal budgets needlessly. And millions of people made needlessly pessimistic decisions based on bad information.

There’s never any excuse for government failing to disclose what should be public information. Now that Trump is taking the ax to CPB, NEA, NEH, and so on, perhaps he should consider eliminating the NWS entirely.

We encountered a major problem yesterday as we were making up chemical bags for biology kits. A few days ago, we’d made up 90 bottles of 6M hydrochloric acid in 30 mL amber-glass bottles, capped them, and taped the caps (as required by USPS regulations). When we were building regulated chemical bags for biology kits yesterday, I opened the ziplock bags of those bottles and found that several of them had leaked. Not good.

We’d had another leakage problem a few weeks ago, but that was Kastle-Meyer reagent in forensic kits, which we produce in relatively small numbers. I found out about that one when I got email from a customer reporting a bad leak that had destroyed the labels on most of the chemicals in the forensic chemical bag.

I didn’t think much about it at the time. These things happen, although very infrequently. So I sent him a new forensic chemical bag that I pulled out of an already-built kit. A few days later, I got email from him that the second bag had the same problem. Shit. So we went back and opened all of the forensic kit chemical bags and found that several of them had KM reagent bottles that had leaked. Double shit.

So we replaced all of the damaged bottles in those bags and pulled out and discarded the KM reagent bottles. I made up new KM reagent bottles, but this time using phenolic-cone caps rather than the standard caps. We’d been using PC caps only on bottles that contained iodine solutions, because iodine vapor penetrated the seal on the standard caps. (Iodine vapor penetrates just about any seal. It really wants to be free.) We use the phenolic caps only when necessary, because they cost about $0.35 each, versus about $0.05/each for the standard caps.

We’d also made up 90 bottles of Lugol’s iodine solution a few days ago, using the phenolic caps as we’ve been doing since we found out a couple of years ago that they were necessary on iodine bottles. I was very surprised to find that there was a problem with those bottles as well. Over just a few days, enough iodine vapor had escape to turn the labels light brown. That’s really only a cosmetic issue; there was no actual leak. Everyone has this problem with iodine solutions. Here, for example, is an image on the Home Science Tools website of their iodine solution, brown stains and all.

So we’re replacing the standard caps on the undamaged hydrochloric acid bottles with phenolic caps. As a belt-and-suspender measure, I decided we’ll also package both the hydrochloric acid bottles and iodine bottles in individual sealed plastic bags. That means we need to go back and open every chemical bag that we have in stock and make that change. It’s probably several days’ work, but it has to be done.

I don’t expect our bottle vendor to do anything about the situation. I’ve determined the problem is with the amber-glass bottles themselves. I suspect a production issue. We’ve used the standard caps for a long time. They’re literally from the same bag of 5,000 that I ordered long ago. And there were never any problems with them until recently. We buy the bottles themselves in small quantities, but this problem has showed up with bottles from several different cases/batches. I think they’re doing something different recently with the bottles themselves.

I’d hate to change vendors. I’ve been happy with our current vendor for the five or six years we’ve been using their bottles and caps. But this goes far beyond the cost of the bottles and caps themselves. We’ve discarded a lot of those because they were ruined, and it’s certainly costing us a lot in terms of chemicals, labor, and so on to fix that damage, not to mention postage costs on replacing damaged shipments. One bottle leaking can mean we have to replace the 20 or 30 other bottles that were in the same bag. But the real cost is in damage to our reputation among our customers. One customer who received a damaged shipment may tell lots of his or her friends. That one unhappy customer could end up losing us a dozen or a hundred potential customers.

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