Safety in academic and other nonindustrial chemical research laboratories will be the focus of a yearlong investigation by a National Academy of Sciences committee, which held its first meeting last week in Washington, D.C. The study will consider how safe lab practices can be promoted in academic and government labs, explained H. Holden Thorp, committee chairman, chemistry professor, and chancellor of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
The examination sprang from numerous chemistry-related lab accidents, particularly ones at the University of California, Los Angeles, in December 2008, and Texas Tech University in January 2010. Since the Texas Tech incident, 65 accidents* (see update) have occurred at academic and government chemical research labs, according to Mary Beth Mulcahy, a Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) investigator who spoke at the meeting. Those accidents injured 136 and killed two.
Several speakers stressed anecdotal evidence indicating that industrial labs are safer than nonindustry labs. But little hard data emerged to demonstrate or explain the proposed difference. The committee will investigate if such differences are real, and if so, whether industry safety measures can be applied to nonindustry labs.There have been two deaths in academic and government chemical research labs since TTU in January 2010. One of them is likely Michelle Dufault, the student who died in a Yale machine shop. The other? I am not sure. Anyone know which incident Dr. Mulcahy might be referring to?* (see update)
I'm looking forward to a statistical look by NAS on the differences between academic and industrial labs; I'm tired of the anecdotal evidence.
UPDATE: Jyllian Kemsley writes in the comments:
CJ, we erred in how we framed that statistic. It should be "65 accidents have occurred at academic, government, and industrial chemical research labs." We're working on correcting the story.
Regarding the two deaths, Mulcahy doesn't count Dufault because the incident occurred in a machine shop rather than a chemistry lab. The two deaths are:
- Adrian Martin, Membrane Technology & Research, gas cylinder explosion
- Unidentified Battelle contractor, Aberdeen Proving Ground, lab explosion and fire
There's one more lab death that Mulcahy doesn't count, because it was microbiology rather than chemistry: Richard Din, San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, bacterial infection contracted from the lab.Thanks to Jyllian for the fast response.