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Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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« Media Note | Main | Nowhere to Go But Up? »

December 28, 2011

The UCLA Lab Fatality: Criminal Charges Filed

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Posted by Derek

Most readers here will remember the fatal lab accident at UCLA in 2009 involving t-butyllithium, which took the life of graduate student Sheri Sangji. Well, there's a new sequel to that: the professor involved, Patrick Harran, has been charged along with UCLA with a felony: "willfully violating occupational health and safety standards". A warrant has been issued for his arrest; he plans to turn himself in when he returns from out of town this season. The University could face fines of up to $1.5 million per charge; Harran faces possible jail time.

This is the first time I've heard of such a case going to criminal prosecution, and I'm still not sure what I think about it. It's true that the lab was found to have several safety violations in an inspection before the accident - but, on the other hand, many working labs do, depending on what sort of standards are being applied. But it would also appear that Sangji herself was not properly prepared for handing t-butyllithium, which (as all organic chemists should know) bursts into flames spontaneously on exposure to air. She was wearing flammable clothing and no lab coat; no one should be allowed to start working with t-BuLi under those conditions. Being inexperienced, she should have been warned much more thoroughly than she appears to have been.

So something most definitely went wrong here, and the LA County DA's office has decided to treat it as a criminal matter. Well, negligence can rise to that level, under the law, so perhaps they have a point. Thoughts?

Update: here's a post that rounds up the responses to this across the blogging world.

Comments (97) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Chemical News | Graduate School | Safety Warnings


COMMENTS

1. Anonymous on December 28, 2011 12:39 PM writes...

I work in industry, and would likely be facing felony charges if an employee died and an investigation revealed gross negligence on my part. Academics seldom face serious consequences for things like this. I'm glad he's facing possible jail time - if he's anything like the P.I.'s at my graduate alma mater; he probably just figured he could replace the grad student easily next fall.

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2. Anonymous on December 28, 2011 1:00 PM writes...

Numerous times research advisers ask irresponsibly untrained students to deal with extremely dangerous chemicals. If you want somebody to deal with extremely dangerous chemicals as t-BuLi is (or for another example HF), you hire an expert. A postdoc who has documented experience and expertise with the chemical. A person who fully understands the risks and the dangers. A person who can react as he is trained to react in an accident. You never hire a novice. You pay of course for the expert. He is not free. You pay his skill and the years that he spent to learn how to handle the chemicals.

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3. UCLA Alum on December 28, 2011 1:02 PM writes...

Look at the flip side: if not criminal charges now, then when? How much more in violation must a lab be for someone to be charged? This lab was inspected prior to the acccident, was cited and no one did anything about it. If you are going to ignore violations and someone is injured, that is criminal negligence. I love UCLA and I have many fond memories of the very lab building in question, but the safety violations there bordered on the ridiculous.

Some say the DA is overstepping, but to a certain extent, that is their job, and case law is made by cases like this. Harran will most likely plea and get probation and community service.

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4. BCP on December 28, 2011 1:02 PM writes...

I actually think this is the right call. Someone died a nasty death here using a notoriously dangerous reagent, if we are not happy to accept the occasional death as an occupational hazard then something needs to change. Without holding the PI legally accountable in such circumstances I doubt there will be any real change.

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5. UCLA Alum on December 28, 2011 1:08 PM writes...

Anonymous said:

If you want somebody to deal with extremely dangerous chemicals as t-BuLi is (or for another example HF), you hire an expert. A postdoc who has documented experience and expertise with the chemical. A person who fully understands the risks and the dangers. A person who can react as he is trained to react in an accident. You never hire a novice. You pay of course for the expert. He is not free. You pay his skill and the years that he spent to learn how to handle the chemicals.

The riduclous part about this is that Sanji was hired as an assistant at $43K/year, probably more than a postdoc would make. It was a more temp job and the accounting is different, but they really weren't saving anything. In my opinion it wasn't about pay, it was about a culture of disregard for safety. I would bet that there are postdocs in labs on that campus right now working with similar chemicals who are doing things just as badly as Sanji did. No one cares.

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6. Mr. Fixit on December 28, 2011 1:09 PM writes...

thank you for writing about this, I think this is a tough call. I am sure she should have had more training! It is beyond terrible that someone lost their live due to a lab accident like this one that we all agree could have been avoided. Do I think the PI deserves jail time? My gut tells me no. I think he had a big role in this accident. What about everybody else around the lab? Did somebody tell her X.Y, and Z would be safer? Did she ask anyone about the hazards of tBuLi? Google search? I think this is a wake up call that everybody needs to be more careful.

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7. Anonymous on December 28, 2011 1:15 PM writes...

"The riduclous part about this is that Sanji was hired as an assistant at $43K/year, probably more than a postdoc would make. It was a more temp job and the accounting is different, but they really weren't saving anything. In my opinion it wasn't about pay, it was about a culture of disregard for safety. I would bet that there are postdocs in labs on that campus right now working with similar chemicals who are doing things just as badly as Sanji did. No one cares."

I am not focusing on the money. I agree that rarely it is the issue. I strongly insist though, that a person who has plenty of experience with a specific dangerous chemical-most logically a postdoc-should get hired to perform work with this chemical. This way you minimize the risk. Risk will always exist in chemistry research. Our duty as chemists is to minimize it.

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8. Anonymous on December 28, 2011 1:26 PM writes...

Do we know that Harran told her to use tBuLi? I'm a senior grad student now, and we have a number of younger students who just don't ask anyone before they start using reagents. We have a postdoc, but the sheer number of younger students, rotation students, and undergraduate students prevents us from keeping track of every single experiment. Official safety training is a joke; you get credit for showing up and using some common sense. We all say things like "don't work alone", but people ignore it. What to do in this case?

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9. Anonymous on December 28, 2011 1:28 PM writes...

In honesty, I'm not sure what the family wants out of this case. UCLA has REALLY changed the safety protocol in the laboratory. The family claims to want to prevent future cases from occurring, which by definition the school has changed it's habit at that school. Charging this as a criminal case that brings to question what is really the motive behind this case?

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10. Anonymous on December 28, 2011 1:34 PM writes...

Without having access to the intimate details, resorting to criminal charges seems too extreme, unless the P.I. pretty much deliberately and willfully sent her to her death. Without knowing any of the people involved, that seems unlikely - unless someone knows otherwise, we should probably assume that he's not a sociopath. But based on the details that are available, being fired and publicly disgraced does look like the bare minimum punishment.

Sending him to jail might be a good way to force other professors to clean up their act, and be a net win for science in general... but I'm personally incredibly uncomfortable with using scapegoats like that. In my grad/postdoc days I did hundreds of reactions that were at least as dangerous, and I lived to tell the tale because of a combination of department policy, group-lore, peer support, advice from supervisors, and common sense (gradually morphing into paranoia). And maybe quite a bit of luck.

Perhaps the mere threat of incarceration will be sufficient to shine some light on the way chemists are treated like expendable cannon fodder...

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11. Chemjobber on December 28, 2011 1:53 PM writes...

The intimate details are in Jyllian Kemsley's definitive C&EN article, which is linked in my handle above. The page also provides much access to PDFs of the relevant notebook pages and legal documents.

Do we know that Harran told her to use tBuLi?

In his public and private statements, Professor Harran has never disavowed the method she used; he has, however, mentioned that he had expected her to use more care.

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12. Ty on December 28, 2011 2:18 PM writes...

Def. negligence: Failure to use reasonable care, resulting in damage or injury to another.

The professor and department's lack of attention and care were responsible for a death. While it may be "common practice", it is still not right. Having this prosecution go forward will create a precedent and hopefully improve standards at all academic institutions in the future. I have always told myself that my career would be nothing if I was responsible for a single death in my lab.

The culture of academic chemistry labs needs to change (and some industrial labs too!). If that means more training, experimental protocol reviews, and more bureaucracy, then that is fine with me. Preventable deaths have no place.

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13. anonymous on December 28, 2011 2:29 PM writes...

There is a recent post in Science about lab safety

http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/2011_12_02/caredit.a1100134

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14. Curt F. on December 28, 2011 2:48 PM writes...

What's the role of UCLA's environmental safety office here? Did the PI think that the EHS office shared responsibility for the safety of their own labs? Did the EHS office think they shared any responsibility for safety in the chemistry lab?

I suspect that many professors currently view guaranteeing lab safety as something that is farmed out to the EHS office and is thus not their job. These charges may help promulgate an alternate view: the PIs are ultimately responsible, and have far more at stake than any EHS officer.

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15. Carl Lumma on December 28, 2011 3:07 PM writes...

The only thing worse than the accident is the way it's being blamed on the PI. Chemistry is dangerous because nature is dangerous. Getting to zero accidents will mean getting to zero chemistry in our society. Indeed, how do we know we aren't suffering from too few lab accidents? Our fear of chemistry is working tremendous harm (most dramatically through 3+ decades of energy policy failure).

I saw a video from some government org in charge of regulating university labs, which examined three famous accidents (probably I found it on this blog)... it was absolutely horrifying, and it's obvious this ruling will have tremendous impact on chemistry departments across the country.

Chemistry enrollment has collapsed, the pharmaceutical chemistry has collapsed (this blog has become its eulogy), the public and their elected representatives can't understand energy policy, glass bottles are made illegal... and the comments above indicate that professional chemists are generally clueless about the gravity of the situation.

The notion that Sangji didn't have enough training is completely absurd - she had a BS in chemistry! You are saying your professional degrees are worthless. My mother synthesized compounds for Merck for 40 years with such a degree. She had to write her thesis in German. Perhaps that's why she never had an accident, and why she wouldn't have blamed someone else if she had.

It was mentioned that the lab had been cited for safety violations. But what is the prior: How many labs have been cited? My Dad's hood looked like a junkyard... my Mom sometimes used the lab fridge, microwave, and hot plate for food. They saved more lives than lab accidents have ever claimed.

Of course safety culture is important. But Sangji was not trained in the lab where the accident occurred.

Chemistry is power over the material world. We must take responsibility for it. In the mean time I will count the deaths in coal mines as "laboratory accidents"... unfortunately, they are probably regulated by separate government agencies. In the meantime, Boxer and Feinstein would like you to know that "No research is worth a person's life".

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16. Carl Lumma on December 28, 2011 3:14 PM writes...

Sorry, not "ruling" but "charges" and "arrest warrant".

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17. Alex on December 28, 2011 3:44 PM writes...

@Carl: really good points. The bureaucratic approach/layperson ideas regarding lab safety are profoundly unhelpful, and typically lead to less productivity and no safety improvement. I have plenty of experience with well-intentioned outsiders missing the point and doing nothing other than getting in the way.

That being said, though, academic culture regarding what kinds of risks aspiring young chemists are exposed to can be pretty crazy. I think it can be improved by being more sensible at a local scale. Every lab is different, and nobody should be doing an experiment without asking around for some background info on the kinds of things that are known to go horribly wrong with that kind of procedure. And advisor coercion is very real: either do the reaction that your P.I. really wants to see the result of, even though it has a good chance of leaving you maimed or dead... or else you might not get your degree, or the publication that launches your career.

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18. exGlaxoid on December 28, 2011 4:05 PM writes...

2. Anonymous on December 28, 2011 1:00 PM writes..."Numerous times research advisers ask irresponsibly untrained students to deal with extremely dangerous chemicals. If you want somebody to deal with extremely dangerous chemicals as t-BuLi is (or for another example HF), you hire an expert. A postdoc who has documented experience and expertise with the chemical. A person who fully understands the risks and the dangers. A person who can react as he is trained to react in an accident. You never hire a novice. You pay of course for the expert. He is not free. You pay his skill and the years that he spent to learn how to handle the chemicals."

But if no one can handle "hazardous" chemicals without experience, you create a Catch-22 where new people cannot get a job, because they don't have experience, and they can't get experience without a job.

I agree that chemistry is hazardous, and that the PI and others in a lab have a duty to train and mentor students, post-docs, and staff, but I also know that you sometimes have to work with new chemicals and a BS chemist should have some idea how to look at the hazards of chemicals.

Hopefully these types of accidents will cause schools to create better safety and risk management classes, courses, and training, but I fear just the opposite-more schools will try to use "virtual labs" to train chemists, such that they have NO real lab experience or hands-on-knowledge. Then who will train them?

I guess that work well with sending all of the chemistry jobs to China, so we won't have any hands-on work here anyway...


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19. MTK on December 28, 2011 4:40 PM writes...

@16 Carl,

I honestly don't know whether the negligence exhibited here rises to the level of criminality. I'd have to hear all the details.

Having said that however, the fact that she was working without a lab coat, and apparently no one said anything, points to a culture that did not make safety a priority. That's on the prof and the department IMO.

Your point of zero accidents means zero chemistry is ridiculous. It's not about zero accidents. Safety is about minimizing the chances of an accident and minimizing the consequences when an accident happens. Honestly, I don't see any instance where a death should happen in a chemistry lab. Something went terribly wrong. Once again I don't know if it's criminal, but it is unacceptable.

As for your contention that she had a BS degree and that should be enough...you're kidding right? I don't know of a single BS lab class that uses tBuLi. Regardless, if the culture within the lab was that most people, including postdocs, did not wear labcoats, safety glasses, etc., it's not reasonable to expect that the most junior of personnel use better judgment.

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20. UCLA Alum on December 28, 2011 5:02 PM writes...

Without having access to the intimate details, resorting to criminal charges seems too extreme, unless the P.I. pretty much deliberately and willfully sent her to her death.

No, that would be negligent homicide. Which Harran is not accused of.

Harran is being charged with "willfully violating occupational health and safety standards". The lab was inspected 2 months prior to the accident and found in violation, violations that were not fixed by the time of the accident. That sounds pretty straightforward to me. I don't see how anyone can say that not performing the actions needed to put the lab in compliance is not in violation of the law. If the accident had never had happened, he still would be in violation of failing to correct unsafe work conditions in a timely manner and failing to require clothing appropriate for the work being done.

In the mean time I will count the deaths in coal mines as "laboratory accidents"... unfortunately, they are probably regulated by separate government agencies.

And there are over 2000 (and as many as 6000) coal mining deaths each year in China and about 30 in the US. If you were a coal miner, which would you chose? Simply blaming the regulation on the death of the chemical industry in the US is really, really simplifying things. I am sure Pfizer is laying off people because they can't make a good drug when they force people to wear lab coats.

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21. Anonymous on December 28, 2011 5:12 PM writes...

IANAL, but "willful" makes it sound like they'll need to prove intent, either by students testifying against him or documents proving he ordered safety regulations to be disregarded.

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22. RET on December 28, 2011 5:36 PM writes...

I believe that there is a real issue to be discussed here about responsibility. While I learned how to do all anhydrous reactions, like LDA generation, directly from undergraduate supervisors, senior graduate students, and postdocs, I read the Aldrich instruction which accompanied all organolithium reagents before using them.

To be clear University Risk Management is never going to take on this responsibility. However, is it a consensus that the direct supervisor should train each student in their lab to use all reagents prior to them working on their own or does the student, postdoc or tech have some responsibility?

I cannot relate to any PI that would threaten a group member who took a little longer to attempt a reaction due to adequate training (reading, practice, asking for help).

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23. UCLA Alum on December 28, 2011 5:38 PM writes...

IANAL, but "willful" makes it sound like they'll need to prove intent, either by students testifying against him or documents proving he ordered safety regulations to be disregarded.

Nope, in the US, willful violation is an "'act done voluntarily with either an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to,' the requirements of Acts, regulations, statutes or relevant workplace policies." They do not need proof that he ordered violation, just that he knew of the violation and acted with indifference.

When I was a grad student at UCLA (only a few years ago), we had these inspections and prepared for a few days beforehand, stopping all work to do so, to try to be in compliance. You need to do a chemical inventory as well so we were somewhat productive during the cleanup. You always knew when they were coming. Inevitably, we always failed something. It was no huge deal, but we were told (by my PI)to immediately fix the problem and that we would be re-inspected soon after.

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24. Spiny Norman on December 28, 2011 6:11 PM writes...

Anon @ 10: "...resorting to criminal charges seems too extreme, unless the P.I. pretty much deliberately and willfully sent her to her death"

I think your problem may stem from a difficulty with the English language. What, exactly, do you think "negligence" means?

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25. Chris on December 28, 2011 7:37 PM writes...

I'm a guy with a BS bio degree working as an analytical chemist. I wrote my thoughts here: http://hrtw.blogspot.com/2011/12/felony-charges-in-ucla-lab-accident.html

Agree heartily with MTK #19

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26. TX Raven on December 28, 2011 10:07 PM writes...

So, what if we outsource a prep to China and someone (God forgive) dies in the attempt?

Does anyone supporting outsourcing strategy look at the safety records at the CROs? Does anyone care, as long as it is cheap?

Just wondering...

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27. Chemjobber on December 28, 2011 11:35 PM writes...

They could grind up dried up puppy to use instead of Celite and we'd buy it, as long as it met spec.

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28. Student on December 28, 2011 11:39 PM writes...

Thought I hate to say it...graduate students are just cheap labor and basically blue-collar "advanced" jobs. As a biologist I am routinely put in a position to do BSL3 experiments in a BSL2 hood. The issue comes of the university not wanting to push the issue (so they don't have to hire more formal training staff), the PI not wanted wanting to push it (same work getting done in less time if restrictions are enforced), and the grad students not wanting to push it (Takes longer to graduate and pisses off your boss). Once I accepted that I am doing blue-collar labor, everything started making more sense..

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29. DrSnowboard on December 29, 2011 4:40 AM writes...

I disagree with Carl Lumma's comments. Zero accidents is an ideal that won't be achieved but to say (I'm paraphrasing) that a certain level of accidents is acceptable in a lab is wrong. The skill in chemistry is managing risk to do creative things with dangerous reagents, safely. My feeling is that this prosecution is correct, everything that happened in the labs that I was responsible for, I was accountable for. Yes, the individual chemist could contribute an element of negligence but if the culture of questioning and seeking advice, without blame, is not there then that is the managers responsibility and they should not expect to be absolved of that.

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30. Anonalso on December 29, 2011 7:14 AM writes...

I have been thinking a lot about this and reading through the comments reinforces my own musings on chemical education/training.

1. Accidents happen. But has been stated many times, understanding the dangers posed by chemicals and properly preparing for the worst helps to minimize those incidents.

2. As a postdoc, I saw many techniques that were questionable. However, the PI was not aware of any of this, because their nice office was located miles away from the lab. If a PI's office was located in a more central location to the lab, I have a feeling things would/could have been corrected.

3. Speaking of training/expertise -- isn't that why there are PIs? They are supposed to be at the highest level of subject. PIs should be able to show any student when asked any technique when asked. (I know this is huge stretch and will piss off a lot of PIs in the process, but your job is education and research).

4. As for chemical education, maybe we should stop with teaching that PCC is the only oxidation method and actually teach methods students would use in the real world. Profs could actually take time teaching about current techniques and hazards associated with each rather than planning on how to pass the ACS exam for OChem. MY common interview question for new hires is an oxidation of an alcohol to a aldehyde. I do not know how many times I hear PCC and then umm...

Okay, enough of my rants.

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31. RichardA on December 29, 2011 7:58 AM writes...

Those tBuLi bottles are packaged in the most ridiculous way.

Work should be done on a safer way to extract and transfering liquids in lab.

Will someone on this?

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32. Nick on December 29, 2011 8:37 AM writes...

33 wrote:

"Those tBuLi bottles are packaged in the most ridiculous way. Work should be done on a safer way to extract and transfering liquids in lab."


Nothing wrong with the bottles. Ever heard of cannulation?

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33. mmol on December 29, 2011 9:18 AM writes...

Stop paying lip service to the bans we all have on lone working....... and that applies as much to grad students and postdocs who do it as it does to PIs who turn a blind eye or (tacitly) encourage it........

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34. The Cadaverine truth on December 29, 2011 10:14 AM writes...

It was always a running joke with PI's that grad students were expendable and exploitable. I saw this more prevalent in students from abroad, especially from Asia. I don't condone this type of treatment for students in anyway, but I believe complete immersion in the field for 4-6 years is necessary to become a true master of the art that we call chemistry. However, the lack of practical training in any lab situation is sheer negligence and the PI’s must be held accountable. It seems the lack of accountability is becoming a plague on our society as whole.
As far as all BuLi solution packaging; I’m sure Aldrich Chemical is all ears for a better solution!

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35. SweetPea on December 29, 2011 10:34 AM writes...

Is there a web resource showing how to use t-BuLi safely?

If not, then as practising chemists we owe it to each other to create one.

Some academics, like some companies, like some countries will always be deficient in their standards. Prosecution after the event offers cold comfort.

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36. Chemjobber on December 29, 2011 10:49 AM writes...

SweetPea: Lots of academically produced YouTube videos (like the one I've linked above from UCLA) have come out in the past 2 years or so.

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37. Rosalind on December 29, 2011 11:11 AM writes...

I completely disagree with Carl Lumma.

You have to take the time to learn how to be a good trainer, and it's not rocket surgery. At Wyeth (pre-Pfizer), we had a one-week cGMP Train The Trainer course that was pretty decent and explained about different learning styles and mentoring folks through the learning process. Every industrial employer I've ever had, including PFE post-WYE takeover, made a point of hammering into my head, "You may have done X that way at (previous company), but now we want you to do it THIS way, because we believe that This Way is better." In the five academic labs I've worked in, only one ever bothered with such an effort.

I've seen the same thing that Student @28 cites in biology labs, to the point that PIs working with select agents refuse to install federally mandated security controls. Their rationale, when confronted by the feds and EH&S with the fact that anyone could walk into their lab, pick up some BSL3 organisms replete with every virulence factor you can imagine, and walk out unnoticed, was, "I'm the expert, who do these government goons think they are anyway?" Uh, they are also experts from CDC and USARMIID, precious. You're not the only special snowflake.

Your ma managed to synthesize complex things with only a BS? Hey, I have a picture of my dad sitting at his TRS-80 surrounded by beakers of flammable solvents, half-cooked polymer goop and an ashtray with a cigarette in his hand. How nice for both of us. Dad also routinely complained that chemists graduating in the '70s weren't trained to handle chemicals properly coming out of school, so apparently "poorly-trained BS grads" has been an issue for many decades.

I think it's not going to work especially well that they make an example out of one academic, in terms of changing the safety culture, but I imagine they feel that it's one thing they can do quickly that doesn't involve putting a hard stop on all UCLA research pending individual lab reviews. It's not like academia can get a Consent Decree.

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38. UCLA Alum on December 29, 2011 12:23 PM writes...

Anonymous wrote:

In honesty, I'm not sure what the family wants out of this case.

Well, the DA prosecutes the case, not the family, they have no say in whether this is prosecuted or not.

But, they seem to be agreeing with going down this path. I can understand why. UCLA was fined $31K and tightened up its compliance. Imaging if that was BP or Merck, and they were found to be in violation of safetly laws, ignored when they were cited and when someone died as a result, were only fined $31K. People would be understandably upset.

I am not going to give them credit for tightening up their compliance, they are just now doing what is mandated by the law, you don't get kudos for doing what you were supposed to be doing to begin with.

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39. processchemist on December 29, 2011 1:37 PM writes...

In chemistry, safety is a matter of scientific culture, and in recent years IMHO the scientific culture of many environments is declining. Usually in our line of work what you don't know may harm you (on the bench) or kill you (in large scale and plant operations). I find appropriate the filing of a criminal charge: maybe Sangji was a negligent chemist, but an environment where safety is serious stuff (and not only a burden of papers and training courses) should minimize the probabily of such a gross accident, and not only with uninflammable clothes.
I heard of chemists handling grignard reagents "en plein air", I've seen stupid behaviours with gas cylinders, I've seen runaway reactions out of control in pilot plants, but I've never seen a dead or seriously injured chemist or plant operator, and I don't think it's only a matter of luck.

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40. gippgig on December 29, 2011 3:47 PM writes...

Some thoughts from an outsider after reading the C&EN article (#11):
Why not use syringes with plungers that won't come all the way out?
Has anyone considered handling spontaneously inflammable compounds in a reduced-oxygen atmosphere? That probably wouldn't stop tBuLi from bursting into flames but it should stop any fire from spreading to ordinary combustibles like clothing or hexane.
#18: The obvious way to get experience with hazardous chemicals is to only work with small quantities so that if it ignites/explodes/poisons you you end up wiser rather than dead.
If it isn't obvious, the reason for a safety precaution should be explained. People would probably be more likely to follow it if they knew why they were doing it (and someone might come up with something better).
How serious are people about safety OUTSIDE the lab? Do you have fire extinguishers at home? Do you always carry a flashlight (preferably LED)?...

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41. RichardA on December 29, 2011 4:42 PM writes...

Yeah, I heard of cannulation. And cannulation is THE problem.

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42. Nick on December 29, 2011 9:54 PM writes...

41 wrote:

"Yeah, I heard of cannulation. And cannulation is THE problem.

How so?

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43. Goodbye Research on December 29, 2011 11:41 PM writes...

I think a more interesting question, apart from acute deaths from chemicals from tBuLi, is what happens when a Ph. D. chemist dies at age 35 from cancer. Indeed, I would be interested to see accurate numbers on the rates of cancer and other such diseases among scientists and chemists in particular. HMPA, dimethyl sulfate and the like won't kill you immediately, but make no mistake: they still come straight from hell. Would Harran be prosecuted if 30% of his former students got leukemia ten years out? Should we as a community care?

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44. gippgig on December 30, 2011 12:42 AM writes...

Consider taking sulforaphane; it induces the phase 2 detoxification enzymes and may significantly reduce the chance of cancer (the recent section on cancer prevention in Nature mentioned a possible 40% reduction; www.nature.com/nature/journal/v471/n7339_supp/full/471S22a.html). Broccoli sprouts (sold in food stores) are a very good source & it's also sold as a supplement (very cheap).

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45. JH on December 30, 2011 2:50 AM writes...

Goodbye Research @ 44

Dimethyl sulfate will easily kill you immediately... getting symptoms after several hours and then dying is immediate enough for me.

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46. processchemist on December 30, 2011 5:20 AM writes...

@41

Cannulation of tBuLi is not easy, it's hard to avoid a bunsen like flame when you take off the cannula from the system, but you can manage the flame with a couple of tricks:
1) When disconnecting the cannula from the system close the nitrogen/argon flow on the bottle side
2) Use a funnel conected to the inert gas line to immediately extinguish the flame coming from the end of the cannula, then take off the cannula from the bottle.

This "protocol" works fine for transfer lines with gauge 12 needles, so should be easier with cannulations of smaller size.

Lithium alkyls: a stress on small scale, easy to manipulate in low pressure cylinders on multiKg scale...

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47. A Nonny Mouse on December 30, 2011 7:39 AM writes...

I don't know about others, but on the few times that I have used sec-BuLi and t-BuLi, I have always used a tap before the syringe in order to control any leakage. These are a standard Aldrich product.

As for the syringes that don't come out, I have always used gas tight ones for manipulation of the 2 reagents above. What amazes me, having seen the picture of the syringe, that the girl was using a plastic syringe for this manipulation! These are impossible to control in terms of withdrawl of liquids and, moreover, the seal does not take kindly to hydrocarbons.

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48. L1 Kimist on December 30, 2011 10:15 AM writes...

There seems to be some confusion here. This is a criminal prosecution, not a civil trial for money. Harran has been charged with "willfully violating occupational health and safety standards". Willfully means intentionally. If he was cited for violations and did not correct the situation, then he acted willfully and is criminally liable.

If the court finds that he did not act willfully, then he is off the hook. The girl's family could sue both Harran and UCLA in civil court for negligence if this case fails. OSHA violations could be used to establish breach of duty (negligence per se). The problem would be getting an expert to testify that the practices in Harran's lab did not conform to industry custom. Just because a lot of labs are unsafe does not mean that Harran gets a free pass.

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49. Renton Mcsomething on December 30, 2011 10:19 AM writes...

@47

Where do you usually cannulate, in a swamp or in the beach?

I have cannulated myself 60 mL of t-BuLi for a 250 mmol scale reacton directly for a enolate transmetallation reaction...

Precaution and common sense is the only thing needed...but of course, is tricky to find common sense these days.

Designing the experiment carefully according to the amount of t-BuLi one have...not hesitating to buy a new bottle to avoid titrations or unnecessary operations, and always cannulate at large scale....for reactions at small scale, Argon is mandatory, leaving a residual volume in the syringe for the Argon inside the bottle is the only thing needed.

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50. Cadaverine truth on December 30, 2011 4:58 PM writes...

@Renton Mcsomething

t-BuLi for enolate formation is a bit of an overkill. LDA would have been a better choice. Were you to lazy to distill the amine?

As far as BuLi solutions, you should always titrate, the specs are usually ± 10%.

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51. AIK on December 30, 2011 5:58 PM writes...

I worked with t-BuLi every day as a sophomore working on a summer research project. No one warned me about its flammability until I accidentally released some from the syringe while I was taking it to the glove box and saw it catch fire. When I mentioned it to my adviser, his response was, "Yeah, t-butyl does that."

I think that because of their own long experiences of working safely with these chemicals and the low probability that something will go terribly wrong, as it did with Ms. Shangji, many professors fail to give adequate warning to their students. Perhaps this is negligent, but I would tend to view it with a more sympathetic eye---professors cannot be expected to go over all of the hazardous properties of all of the chemicals with which their students work (especially at the graduate level), and they will likely forget to mention some of them. They should, however, review safety procedures with students and make sure that safety equipment is in working order.

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52. Rake on December 30, 2011 8:37 PM writes...

In my honest opinion the whole world has gone mad. Mistakes happen and whilst it is in everyones best interests to try to minimise and prevent mistakes occurring every once in awhile they do and their results can be devastating. Every chemist worth their salt should know when stepping into lab the full risks associated with the days experiments. You only have to google tbutyl lithium to find countless pages expressing the dangers involved.

At undergraduate level you are drilled into risk assessments and fully understanding the consequences of mishandling something. If you don't feel confident doing something, then the ernest is upon you to ask for guidance. At the end of the day your life is most at risk by doing something fool heartedly. At the age of 18 the law dictates you are mature enough to be responsible for your actions that leads to the death of another being, so surely at this ages you must also be responsible for the actions that lead to your own death.

It is a very sad and unfortunate event which whilst could have been prevented, the only person truly to blame is the late Ms. Shangji.

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53. incha on December 30, 2011 9:21 PM writes...

It is completely crazy that the PI is being charged with negligence, and I am surprised by the unsympathetic responses of the readers of this blog.
Prof. Harran hired someone with a BSc in chemistry to work in his lab. This qualification should tell him that this person is trained to handle chemicals and perform straightforward everyday laboratory procedures. Appropriate safety equipment appears to be available in the Harran group (it was reported that one of the other postdocs smothered Sangji with their lab coat). Prof. Harran cannot surely be held responsible for her choosing not to wear appropriate safety equipment. All chemicals come with warnings on the bottles as to their particular hazards, thus I don't see why it is a PIs responsibility to spell this out to each researcher. These two simple actions would have prevented this death and these two simple actions were entirely the researchers responsibility, and not the PIs. If she was unsure of what she was doing (although it was reported she had performed the same reaction previously) there were more senior members of the group available to ask. Or she could have checked correct handling procedures from a number of source. All actions the researcher failed to take. The PI should not be held accountable for the laziness or lack of common sense of his employees.

Rake - totally agree

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54. UCLA Alum on December 30, 2011 11:12 PM writes...

incha said:

Prof. Harran hired someone with a BSc in chemistry to work in his lab. This qualification should tell him that this person is trained to handle chemicals and perform straightforward everyday laboratory procedures.

There is still some confusion here. It wouldn't matter if he hired someone with a Ph.D. with 25 years experience, 2 of the 3 the charges are that he was cited for safety violations under his supervision and did not correct them. Period. You mention that she did not wear appropriate PPE. Well, if this is what Harran was cited for (and it appears that is one of the charges) and he did not correct it, then he is still liable. It could be a Noble Prize winner in the lab who is not wearing their lab coat, if the Nobelist is an employee it is the responsibility of the person in charge to ensure that they wear lab coats AND there are penalties if they do not. The penalties are part of the proof. Now, if Harran can produce a document that he made everyone sign that says "If you do not wear your lab coat, you are fired", then he has a much stronger case. I TA'd for a community college Ochem class more than a decade ago and everyone signed a blanket handout saying that the first time someone wasn't wearing appropriate PPE (googles and a lab coat), they would go home for the day, the second time they would not be allowed back into the class. Problem solved.

For the third charge, that the employee did not have appropriate safety training, is a bit more of a grey area. You may argue that our hypothetical PhD with 25 years of experience should already have it; a BS...well, if I thought there was a chance of me going to jail over it, I would sit down with each employee for a few hours just to make sure they knew what was expected. And really, that is about all it would take. How much trouble can it be for a PI to take some time and have a heart to heart about safety?

The fact that there is still an argument that the PI is not responsible for setting and enforcing safety standards is example enough of how broken the system currently is. Sometimes it takes a criminal case to draw a line in the sand. And the DA is saying that line is ignoring being cited for safety violations.

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55. gippgig on December 31, 2011 4:19 AM writes...

It's human nature to cut corners and take chances. When policy conflicts with human nature, policy loses. The best anyone can do is to head over to the psychology department and talk to experts on human behavior about how to get people to take safety as seriously as possible (which still won't be good enough to stop every preventable accident).

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56. Mol on December 31, 2011 4:35 AM writes...

#52 and 53...... Hard not to think..... "there but for the grace of god.......". This isn't about "policy" but about the underlying culture that, exists and operates. The two young women who have died over the past 3 yrs were both alone in their labs.....

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57. petros on December 31, 2011 7:04 AM writes...

Having worked extensively with t-BuLi in the days when I was a practising chemists, starting when I was only a lowly graduate, some of the above comments amaze me.

For transferring the reagent from sure seal bottles you used either a glass syringe with a luerlock fitting or a cannula depending on volume required. Having done so many times I never got more than the odd drip igniting.

This case highlights what would be multiple safety violations in most companies.

Working alone in the lab
Not wearing protective equipment.
Use of inappropriate equipment (a plastic syringe)

while the third may be down to user inexperience it could be failure to provide the correct equipment.

The first two damn the culture and practises of the lab and by implication the institution.

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58. Renton Mcsomething on December 31, 2011 9:14 AM writes...

@50

Thanks for the remark, it was not a mere standard enolate formation what I was doing with t-BuLi...and yes, as any undergrad knows, for those LDA works quite well...althought I would recommend adding Et2Zn a-la Negishi to do the trick more softly...and if the reaction still does not work...perhaps giving a try to SmI2.

Anyway, my point before was that the chemical reagent universe is populated by quite harmful and dangerous fellas. However careful manipulation and savyy awareness of protocoles minimises a lot risks...unaccurate assessments of these risks equals to spread false myths and believes that sometimes actually the policy and decission-making....one of the last example we have seem was when these guys in the EPSRC decided to cut massively funding from academic OrgChem on the ground of another false myth which OrgChem is not profitable and does not create richness to society

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59. Renton Mcsomething on December 31, 2011 9:15 AM writes...

@50

Thanks for the remark, it was not a mere standard enolate formation what I was doing with t-BuLi...and yes, as any undergrad knows, for those LDA works quite well...althought I would recommend adding Et2Zn a-la Negishi to do the trick more softly...and if the reaction still does not work...perhaps giving a try to SmI2.

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60. incha on December 31, 2011 10:54 AM writes...

@54 If a prof. fired a grad student/post doc/researcher for not wearing ppe there would be no grad students left taking organic chemistry.

Whilst I do not disagree with your sentiment (a couple of students being fired for not wearing their lab coats would quickly sort out the attitudes of the others I expect), you cannot expect a PI to be there 24/7, as long as he tells students when he sees them breaking violations. This researcher made a choice and unfortunately paid a high price for it.

As for loan working, there were at least 2 post docs present at the time of the incident in question, so loan working was not an issue for this incident.

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61. Crucify Him on December 31, 2011 2:38 PM writes...

I'm glad they are crucifying him. A felony conviction would look on a CV, but he's tenured anyway.

Maybe academic labs won't treat the "help" as expendable anymore.

I'd like to see more of these graduate programs shut down since many of them are a waste of time and money. If people want to "play scientist" they can do it on their own dime and in their own garage.

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62. LMP on December 31, 2011 3:03 PM writes...

Going to weigh in on the side of those saying "Too right". The guy is/was the head of the lab, and thus completely responsible for the culture within it. Sorry to those who say otherwise, but if the boss picks you up every time you're in the lab without specs/labcoat/gloves, you start doing it. And those postdocs who want to be popular with the boss start picking you up too. A culture of safety, hell, any culture, starts at the top. Not even the university safety office can create a culture of safety if the PI doesn't support it.

Unfortunately, even when there's equipment out there that can help prevent these accidents (needles with taps, etc), I've worked in too many labs where the boss has queried their ordering on the basis of cost. The pressures of academia are one thing, but faculty have run roughshod over health and safety regulations (which are, after all, there for a reason even if they're a pain in the arse) for too long. This guy may be a scapegoat, but saying "But everyone does it!" is no excuse.

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63. milo on December 31, 2011 7:50 PM writes...

After reading a few blogger's take on this matter, I am glad that I ran like hell from academia. To actually question if the PI is responsible or not shows ignorance or denial (or both). It is clear that the academic culture will not change on its own. Let us see what happens to it when a few of the big dogs do some jail time because of their arrogance.

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64. Extra Small Student on December 31, 2011 8:04 PM writes...

I don't usually wear a lab coat, primarily because lab coats are poorly designed and ill-fitting. I'm 5'1" and 95 lbs, and my extra small cotton lab coat is so wide that it catches on everything, creating more of a hazard than without. The coat's neckline exposes my upper chest area, and the ridiculous length makes me walk like a penguin. I really don't understand why you would need or want to access your pants pockets through the side slits. I can't find an extra small flame-retardant lab coat anywhere. I'm resorting to altering a small size lab coat by myself because the tailor down the street (NYC) quoted me $102 to shorten the sleeves and take in the sides.

My lab is over 50% women, and all of us have different body types. Lab coats just don't fit us right. Has anyone found a solution for this?

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65. MP on December 31, 2011 8:59 PM writes...

Some people mentioned that Sheri was not trained to use T-BuLi and it was PI's and University's fault.

Even BS should know that before using new substance one should read MSDS or manual (many years ago I was trained to do it and I still do it), not mention about safety cloth (my colleagues are laughing when I use lab coat and glasses in certain cases - as somebody said lab culture). For lazy people there is wikipedia entry where one can even find method of handling T-BuLi.
Does following general safety rules with reading MSDS or even Wikipedia, really require extraordinary skills and years of practice?

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66. MP on December 31, 2011 9:13 PM writes...

Some people mentioned that Sheri was not trained to use T-BuLi and it was PI's and University's fault.

Even BS should know that before using new substance one should read MSDS or manual (many years ago I was trained to do it and I still do it), not mention about safety cloth (my colleagues are laughing when I use lab coat and glasses in certain cases - as somebody said lab culture). For lazy people there is wikipedia entry where one can even find method of handling T-BuLi.
Does following general safety rules with reading MSDS or even Wikipedia, really require extraordinary skills and years of practice?

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67. Anonymous on January 1, 2012 1:24 AM writes...

A lot of folks seem to think Harran's a scapegoat for doing the same things every P.I. does in academia. I think he's like a drunk driver - lots of ordinary people have done it, most of the time nothing will happen and you won't get caught, but if you accidentally kill somebody through your negligence, expect to be facing jail time.

Maybe Harran is unlucky, but if unlucky drunk drivers didn't face severe consequences, a lot more people would take their chances after a night at the bar.

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68. gippgig on January 1, 2012 1:46 AM writes...

The C&EN article (#11) states that Aldrich recommends glass rather than plastic syringes and recommends forcing the pyrophoric reagent into the syringe with gas pressure rather than pulling back on the plunger. The UCLA video (#36) states that plastic syringes are better than regular (but not Teflon-tipped plunger) glass syringes and also says that using gas pressure to force the liquid into the syringe is not recommended. It's hard to take safety precautions seriously when they are contradictory. Safety experts need to get together and develop universal, sensible safety recommendations.

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69. SweetPea on January 1, 2012 6:25 AM writes...

@ gippgig

My frustration exactly - even after this tragedy, it seems beyond us to agree on a best-practice for handling this reagent. Maybe whoever described Chemistry as a "cottage industry" was spot on. I despair.

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70. mmol on January 1, 2012 6:48 AM writes...

62 is on the mark. "A culture of safety, hell, any culture, starts at the top".

Only thing I'd disagree with is the effectiveness of any (my!) safety office in creating anything regarding "culture". There generate confusion, forms, policies (usually impractical and unworkable) and a preoccupation with paper trails (in the mistaken illusion that this makes for arse covering). Seeing wood 4 trees......at least my experience here......

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71. UCLA Alum on January 2, 2012 12:57 PM writes...

@54 If a prof. fired a grad student/post doc/researcher for not wearing ppe there would be no grad students left taking organic chemistry.

No way. Once people know it will happen, then they will wear their lab coats. In industry, people were their lab coats and they were all trained in the same academic labs.

Whilst I do not disagree with your sentiment (a couple of students being fired for not wearing their lab coats would quickly sort out the attitudes of the others I expect), you cannot expect a PI to be there 24/7, as long as he tells students when he sees them breaking violations.

But that is just it, the charges are not that he told the students they must wear their lab coats and they refused. The charge is he was cited for not telling them to wear their lab coats and still didn't make them wear it.

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72. micah s. on January 2, 2012 1:35 PM writes...

Dangerous reagents and apparatus should require specific safety training and close supervision. So this grad student was not properly kitted out. Why was she allowed to work with this apparently horrid substance without supervision. I am not a chemist, but we worked with HF in our lab, and by 'we' I mean a postdoc with extensive safety training, in a separate lab space specifically equipped for that purpose. Did it slow work down when we needed to wait get him to etch something? Absolutely, but that is the price of safety procedures properly followed.Yes, grad students are 'adults', but they are there to learn proper procedure. They do not come equipped with this knowledge and assuming that they will do the right thing safety-wise is the definition of criminal negligence. I won't go so far as to say that PIs view their students as disposable, but the person above who compared these charges with what would happen in we were dealing with industry and a worker death was spot on. People would be going to jail in that case, and so should they here.

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73. Donough on January 2, 2012 1:37 PM writes...

I wonder do they have a near miss reporting system? We use this regularly in industry and it is useful for cutting out small things, preventing big accidents and bringing in a safer culture.

In any case, there is no doubt that if that situation had happened in the labs (national institutions and work place), my boss (and not my mentor for example group leader) would be held accountable. Their job would almost certainly be gone and the safety board of the country in question would have the ability to bring charges against both the person and the job. This is because I would have not only killed myself but created a hazard for other workers. View from EU.

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74. Anonymous on January 2, 2012 5:18 PM writes...

Re 66 MP

Yes. A Bachelor's degree means knowing that you've got to read the label and, if there's a hazard, you've got to look up the safety procedures.

Actually, that's training: not education. I'll give a potted summary of the difference for those that need it - training is imparting a defined set of facts and skills to support a limited list of tasks accompanied by a clearly-stated set of 'what-to-do-if' instructions for a clearly-delimited set of circumstances and situations.

A BS is a degree: the certificate of an education.

This means *knowing what you don't know* - the whole point of a degree, if it's worth the paper it's written on, is to give a breadth of knowledge in the subject; training in critical thinking, and a knowledge of where to look next when you meet a gap in your knowledge or a topic that requires further study.

It seems clear that the unfortunate graduate student had insufficient training to deal with this hazardous reagent. Nor did she have the necessary critical skills and judgement to recognise a gap in her knowledge and request advice, or supervision, in her first attempt at an unfamiliar procedure: she was, in the most important possible way, deficient in her education.

That doesn't get the lab and her PI off the hook.

If she wasn't trained, they're negligent.

If she was qualified, on paper, but did not act according to those paper expectations of diligence and competence... They're still negligent: it's a failure of supervision. The only possible get-off-the-hook would be to demonstrate that an experienced and trusted employee of proven competence with hazardous chemicals had - unaccountably - chosen to disregard the proper safety procedures, just that once.

If she worked the way that everybody worked, because that was the culture... Let's hope that no-one tries that as a defence. That's admitting a culture of negligence. It would get a commercial enterprise closed down, with just about everyone with any supervisory responsibility facing criminal charges.

That's the law: if you don't like it, go to China and work with expendable employees, for real - and hope that you don't discover your own expendability the hard way. Or discover that the 'expendable' postgrad who just lost an eye when you permitted her to work without goggles turns out to be the regional Party Secretary's niece.

Anyone who whines about jobs going to China because health and safety regulations are a drag might just be the type of boss who resents the way that cutting all the corners is *still* leaving him, fatalities and all, falling behind his competitors - who seem to get more done, and keep better staff, and manage safety as part of being... Better managers at everything else.


So finally, we come to management. What idiot doesn't realise that failing a safety inspection has consequences? It's not just the annoyance of diverting effort into putting things right - procedures, equipment, training - and the bureaucratic inconveniences of documenting that you've done so.

It's the certainty that *any* accident that happens when you've been cited (or, in the UK, been served a Notice of Improvement), and manifestly have failed to bring your workplace into compliance, will bring down the wrath of the Inspector and a criminal prosecution.

Have they ever heard the phrase: "They will throw the book at you?"

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75. anonymous on January 2, 2012 6:08 PM writes...

"Prof. Harran cannot surely be held responsible for her choosing not to wear appropriate safety equipment."

Yes, he can. I was a grad student at UCLA under DAE (long time ago). He was lax about safety. We used to squirt t-BuLi out of syringes to make each other jump. Either he never knew or thought "boys will be boys". I went from that atmosphere to a military laboratory where we worked with very dangerous materials indeed. Safety was primary. When the lab commander would drop in he'd eagle-eye the place and write up anybody who wasn't 100% up to SOPs on safety. ANY violation was a serious matter. Three violations got a special investigation. One didn't want to be on the receiving end of one of those. Later, when I left that lab and became director of a smaller, less dangerous lab, I still ran a tight ship - and over a period of a few months everybody learned how to put safety ahead of expediency, etc.

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76. Chemjobber on January 2, 2012 6:54 PM writes...

To #76 Anon: That sounds like a very interesting shift -- willing to talk about it?

E-mail me at chemjobber =at= gmail/dot/com.

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77. Joe on January 2, 2012 8:17 PM writes...

I have no idea about lab coat standard in industry, but the polyester one sold in most places is not fire-resistant at all.

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78. Lu on January 3, 2012 2:45 AM writes...

64. Extra Small Student on December 31, 2011 8:04 PM writes...

lab coats are poorly designed and ill-fitting.
My lab is over 50% women, and all of us have different body types. Lab coats just don't fit us right.

...Not to mention that the coats sold through major lab suppliers have male-type buttons (on the right side).
The solution is sewing, unfortunately. I would also replaced the buttons with snaps so you can easily rip the coat off in case of fire or a nasty spill.

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79. Industrialist on January 3, 2012 4:55 AM writes...

#64 and #79 Does your employer not have a duty of care to supply appropriate PPE? They certainly do in the UK.

"When a four star [general] cares about safety, everbody cares about safety", from the public inquiry into the loss of a Nimrod in Afghanistan. Certainly my boss and his boss ask me about safety before they ask about experimental results, and once every two or three weeks they have a detailed conversation with someone about what they're doing, what precautions have been taken and the like.

It's been said before, but safety culture is they key. Safety is not something that is done to you by the safety department, it's just how everyone works.

Matt

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80. Will on January 3, 2012 8:58 AM writes...

When I was in grad school in the late 90's, safety was more or less a total joke. our compliance officer used to brag about his strategies to wear out the osha inspector by walking him all over campus before bringing him to labs where violations might be found. over my six years we had two close calls that could have resulted in serious injuries or even death;

Harran may be experiencing a standard of prosecution that is different than was applied to PI's in previous incidents, but that doesn't mean it's not right

certainly as a 22 year old, i was lax about safety - i was going to live forever after all! now in my late 30's with kids, i can't imagine being so reckless.

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81. Will on January 3, 2012 9:03 AM writes...

another thing


i would say as a nominal "educator" harran (and all PIs) has a higher ethical responsibility to teach and enforce proper safety protocols than an industrial group where profit is naturally an issue (not that safety is not paramount there as well). the physical well-being of his students has to be the overriding concern for any teacher/academic supervisor

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82. Vader on January 3, 2012 10:27 AM writes...

I am disinclined to support the prosecution of this as a criminal case. I would rather have the law underreach than overreach.

However, "willful" negligence carries a considerable burden of proof, so either the prosecutor is pursuing it because there was incredibly blatant disregard for all common sense and good practice, or the prosecutor is grandstanding. Unfortunately, the latter is not unknown behavior for prosecutors; try googling "Nifong" if you have any doubts about that.

I can't rule out blatant disregard for all common sense and good practice, though. Not my call, which is just as well.

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83. Design Monkey on January 3, 2012 10:37 AM writes...

>78. Lu on January 3, 2012 2:45 AM writes...
...Not to mention that the coats sold through major lab suppliers have male-type buttons (on the right side).

------------

And how that would be significant in the tiniest degree? It's silly convention, that matters totally a zilch for coat safety.

>I would also replaced the buttons with snaps so you can easily rip the coat off in case of fire or a nasty spill.

Depends on your lab coat supplier. Ours (from a German company, I think) are exactly with snaps.

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84. NoDrugsNoJobs on January 3, 2012 11:47 AM writes...

Please prosecute, lawyers have been struggling to maintain full employment in this tough economy and are always looking to expand their areas of operation.

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85. monoceros4 on January 3, 2012 12:22 PM writes...

Hang on a second. Surely the crucial mistake in this accident was that the student ran around like a chicken with her head cut off instead of heading straight for the safety shower? Is her PI responsible for _that_?

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86. gippgig on January 3, 2012 10:40 PM writes...

There was no single crucial mistake. As is very often the case (everywhere, not just in the lab), this accident was caused or made worse by a series of mistakes.
Does anyone use a harmless solution that changes color when exposed to air to train people to handle pyrophoric chemicals (also good for open houses & journalists)?

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87. milo on January 5, 2012 9:37 AM writes...

Gippgig,

I use isopropyl Grignard or hexyl lithium. these are not pyrophoric but bubble and spittle when exposed to air.

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88. Anonymous on January 5, 2012 10:51 AM writes...

I am glad this is being taken seriously. I worked in many labs in 5 different institutions 2 of them in North America, only one of them was taking safety issues seriously.

This way I hope the word will reach those PIs who don't care about the safety of their students and would ask them to work with radioactive isotopes without any kind of monitoring or proper training, among others.

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89. Ken on January 5, 2012 3:37 PM writes...

Typical over-reaction (no pun intended)to an event in a societal workplace. First of all she was "not" a student but a full employee at the UCLA lab. Second of all she was not wearing proper PPE even though she knew better and also did not follow proper procedure after having done the reaction improperly. Most of these posts are from people who may have read half an article or are just posting to post without proper information. Her family is grief stricken and is the primary catalyst (no pun intended) in this DA decision to file charges. The family is Pakistani which in this case probably hate America even though it has provided a certain comfort they "obviously" could not get in Pakistan. The whole thing is the liberal mentaliy and I am a victim facade put on everyday to win money in a lawsuit or score some political points. It reaks and is destroying this country lawsuit by lawsuit.

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90. Processator on January 6, 2012 6:33 AM writes...

t-BuLi should be taken of the catalogs. If you plan a synthesis that requires it, please plan again and come up with a different route.

Is Harran guilty? I do not know and justice will tell. This will surely trigger a response from most academics to be more involved in safety and really think twice about the programs they run and how they run them.

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91. Dystopia Max on January 6, 2012 12:20 PM writes...

Chemistry is one job where an active and working operating intelligence is much more important than a certificate of achievement or even a bachelor's degree. Credentials can always be cheated, intelligence tests much less often. If you don't have an abstract visuospatial intelligence that hears "t-butyl-lithium" and immediately imagines the structure, function, and history of the molecule in the solution right in front of you, you have no business being a chemist.

Sadly, this incredibly ill-suited person was a trifecta of likely bad judgment: a woman, a minority, and an immigrant. All three categories have massive incentives and government set-asides to cheat the system and minority-bully their way into a position where their authority can cost lives-though thankfully this one was only her own.

The professor in question was probably like most science-loving beta males-grew up in a fever-swamp of Stieg Larssen-esque grrl power Kulturmarxisme and made the fatal mistake of taking it seriously. Or he could simply be a person with a normal observational view of human nature whose ability to tell the truth and take action on it was blocked by the usual leftist suspects.

He deserves censure for dreaming on duty, but putting him in prison BEFORE filling the university administration and legal offices, the Women's Studies departments, and the various campus ethnic grievance organizations with elemental fluorine is foolish. We can always get more administrators and OWSer-types; useful chemistry professors are rarer, and multiplying more government safety rules usually means they end up ignored. Safe operation of dangerous chemicals requires the common sense that comes from a common experience, a common language that creates common images and understandings of the situation in the mind, and a common way of responding to safety violations. None are present in striving careerist foreigners with unearned legal power who put pleasing their boss over accomplishing the mission safely.

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92. MJH on January 9, 2012 3:18 PM writes...

I find that those who want to blame the student and a scoffing at safety while blaming politicians for their lack of understanding about safety a bit disturbing. As a Director of a semiconductor research facility, I find that it is my responsibility to manage the safety procedures of my laboratory. I have over the years heard wines about the buddy system and project planning but my response is tough. If you are planning a project correctly, then safety and the procedures around usage will come up. We as a management team decide if we have the facilities to handle the chemistry, and if not we do something else. It is the laboratory manager and the lab managements job to make those tough decisions. This appears not to be a societal problem, a political problem, but a management problem.

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93. Anonymous on January 10, 2012 6:59 PM writes...

#91 is an ass.

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94. Dystopia Max on January 11, 2012 1:24 PM writes...

93 is too insecure to risk his (her? its? their?) avatar name's reputation on a real response.

92: "It is the laboratory manager and the lab managements job to make those tough decisions. This appears not to be a societal problem, a political problem, but a management problem."

Tautological foolishness that only applies where there are no active market, sociological, or political forces acting on the lab. The reason lab managers in the real world do not have their necessary authority is precisely BECAUSE of societal and political pathologies, which demand certain outcomes regardless of how many people die. Your average manager does NOT have the cojones to stand by the rules when managers above him in fields unrelated are demanding outcomes to please the real powers that be.

Until the dry rot of managerialism in our institutions is expunged, chemistry should be an independent guild or cease to exist under the presumption of competence.

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95. Nicolaou's Mustache on January 13, 2012 12:34 PM writes...

90% of synthetic organic professors treat people poorly in a work atmosphere and get away with it, but not this poorly. I hope this will give the grieving family some closure.

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96. Anonymous on January 14, 2012 12:19 AM writes...

I found the Aldrich suggestion of using pressure to force tBuLi in glass syringe questionable at best. The risk of getting the plunger pushed out by pressure or reagent leaking through is simply too high. The solvent will eat through the lubricant if it is used. Sure seal is not sure anymore if it is punctured once. The industry definitely needs a smarter way for retail use of these pyrophoric agents.

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97. Jim on December 24, 2013 8:10 PM writes...

The fact that this accident occurred at all suggests to me that Ms. Sangji didn't have respect for the chemical she was working with and thus had no fear of what could happen if her technique was poor and she made a mistake in the transfer of a pyrophoric reagent. This indicates that her undergraduate training was inadequate. As a result, she failed to plan the experiment properly the day before and didn't think about the steps involved in her head overnight before setting up the reaction. These are things that are necessary when planning a potentially dangerous experiment of that scale. This also indicates Ms. Sangji was poorly organized and didn't enjoy synthetic organic chemistry as much as one who wished to pursue a graduate degree or as much as a postdoc would. Ms. Sangji likely viewed her position as a 8 hour a day job and had plans to do something outside of a lab when she left. This made her the wrong person to hire and as a result an accident ensued.

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