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Laboratory Chemical Safety Incidents, 2001–2018
A judge in Los Angeles has dismissed criminal charges against Patrick Harran, a chemistry professor at the University of California-Los Angeles, stemming from a fatal laboratory incident that killed a student researcher. On Dec. 29, 2007, Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji was working in Harran’s lab with tert-butyl lithium, a chemical that ignites when exposed to air, when the syringe she was using came apart. She was not wearing a lab coat, and she suffered third-degree burns. Sangji died on Jan. 19, 2008.  Charged with four felonies related to the incident, Harran reached a settlement with the Los Angeles district attorney to drop the charges if he met certain conditions within five years. On Sept. 6, 2018, Harran was found to have fulfilled his obligations as defined by the settlement, and the charges were dropped. The news refocused attention on chemical safety in laboratories—particularly in academic labs, where, according to the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, hundreds of incidents involving chemicals have occurred between 2001 and 2018. Information about these incidents based on CSB data appears below.
From “Safety Test: What’s Behind the Rash of Incidents in Academic Labs?” in the August 2014 Synergist: “The ever-changing environment of academic labs does have certain limitations. For example, many universities built laboratories long before bringing researchers onboard or before understanding the experiments the researchers planned to perform. Some laboratories were designed such that clean areas for eating or working on a computer were buried in the back, forcing researchers to walk through the lab area to get there. And based on existing infrastructure, health and safety professionals may find themselves hard-pressed to add necessary engineering controls.”
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In August, The Knoxville News Sentinel reported that a student intern and a researcher at Oak Ridge Associated Universities had devised an experiment to replicate the McCluskey incident in order to study the effects of radiation on the body. By irradiating vials of their own blood for different lengths of time, the researchers hope to generate data that clinicians and first responders can refer to following an exposure incident.

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