I believe the best argument against eating and drinking in laboratories is the potential for low-level chronic exposures. Driving home this point is an incident that occurred in a biochemistry laboratory in which I worked. A student was vortexing a microfuge vial of p32 and did not notice that a tiny drop had leaked onto her glove. We later found radioactivity on the pipettors, the fume hood sash handle, her jeans, the telephone and numerous other items. P32 can be easily detected, but researchers have no good way of detecting residues from the many other chemicals that are handled, and sometimes spilled… and fine powders that may not be completely contained during weighing procedures, especially in labs that are not meticulous in housekeeping, will never be observed wherever they landed in the laboratory. This is why lab workers should change gloves and wash hands often.
Many chemicals are known or suspected carcinogens but many others have not been fully characterized. Prohibition of eating and drinking in laboratories where hazardous materials are used should be a facility wide lab rule, with exceptions granted only in cases where a risk assessment determines that the amounts and uses of relatively non-hazardous agents provide a good level of confidence that neither chronic nor acute exposure potentials are present.
I have never seen any statistics about incidents that occurred due to eating or drinking in a lab.. The intentional poisoning cases are not the result of accidental ingestion. I’ve read numerous accounts of accidental ingestion of chemicals outside of labs, especially in maintenance areas, where someone decides to store a chemical in a beverage container..
In 20 years at Princeton, there have been three cases, all occurring more than 15 years ago. Of these, two were very similar situations – both happened in biology research labs where the researcher had a coffee cup on the lab bench, was focusing on the experiment and accidentally picked up and drank from a beaker rather than the coffee cup. In both cases, they drank a bit of buffer solution. There were no illnesses or injuries. These labs were designed such that the workup areas were adjacent to the lab bench – a design we have since rejected.
The third incident involved an electrical engineering graduate student who had been soldering at a workstation near his desk and didn’t realize that he had soldering flux on the sleeve of his lab coat. He was still wearing the lab coat as he ate his sandwich at his desk and didn’t realize that his sleeve brushed against the sandwich. He ended up with a bite of flux, which irritated his mouth.
I’ve never seen a collection of such anecdotes.
Robin M. Izzo, M.S.
Associate Director, EHS
Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.
~ Mark Twain
There were two instances of coffee tainted/spiked with acrylamide at Quidel in Torrey Pines by Joseph Bohn, back in 1982 and 1983. He soaked coffee filters in acrylamide used for casting gells, allowed them to dry, and then put them back
for people to use. At the time I worked at CalbioChem (also in Torrey Pines) and knew some of the individuals who were poisoned.
The only one that I can remember in recent history is the case of the coffee tainted with sodium azide that happened at Harvard a few years back. I am not sure if the true method of contamination was ever disclosed.
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