Chemical SafetyCollege chemical labs unsafe, report finds

Published 26 October 2011

A recently released report found that college laboratories with their dangerous mix of volatile chemicals pose a danger to students and employees

A recently released report foundthat college laboratories with their dangerous mix of volatile chemicals pose a danger to students and employees.

According to the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), over the past decade there have been 120 severe accidents at university labs that resulted in large explosions and even deaths.

The report serves as a cautionary tale for universitiesacross the country,” said Daniel Horowitz, CSB’s managing director.

The latest CSB report comes as a result of an incident on 2 January 2010 at a Texas Tech lab where a student lost three fingers, suffered severe burns, and damaged an eye when producing ten grams of an explosive compound – 100 times more than the lab limit.

The report lays out a challenge to the academic community,” said Neal Langerman, the head of Advanced Chemical Safety Inc.  “We really need a ‘safety culture’ in university labs.”

Lab accidents at schools and colleges occur ten to fifty times more frequently than in the chemical industry, said James Kaufman, the president and CEO of the Laboratory Safety Institute.

As evidence, the report detailedseveral other incidents including a chemical fire in 2008 where a UCLA graduate student died of her burns, a hydrogen explosion in which four University of Missouri students were injured in 2010, and an acid fire that burned two University of Maryland students last month.

The report concluded that a lack of good practice guidance recognized by the academic community, limited use of Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines for increasing safety in the laboratory, and a lack of involvement in safety regulations from agencies that issue research grants have created these potentially unsafe conditions at academic labs across the country.

To help improve safety, CSB recommended that the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society, develop good practice guidelines that identify and describe ways to assess and control hazards in labs.

More specifically, CSB recommended that Texas Tech University revise and expand on its lab safety plan to ensure that physical safety hazards are addressed. In addition, the university should also develop and implement an incident reporting system that can be used to teach researchers proper safety procedures.

CSB concluded by stating that the chemical safety procedures at universities required further investigation.

“With over 110,000 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers estimated to be working in academic laboratories, these identified safety gaps and other issues deserve further examination and research in a larger, more comprehensive study on academic laboratory safety,” the group wrote.