A chemical spill, unchecked eyewash stations, poor training: Audit details Cal State's lax lab safety
In May 2016, two bottles tumbled off a poorly supported shelf and broke, leading to a chemical spill in a Sacramento State University lab.
The liquid got onto one student's legs and soaked another's feet.
Five employees cleaned up the mess, even though no one knew for sure what it was and whether it was dangerous. They called fellow employee Kim Harrington, their union representative, to let her know what happened.
The spill initially was thought to be all acetone ‰?? a solvent used in many nail polish removers that can irritate the nose, throat, eye and skin at moderate to high levels of exposure. The campus did not identify the liquid until the next day, when staff determined that the broken bottles contained not only acetone but another more harmful solvent called dimethylformamide, a known liver toxin that can cause abdominal pain, dizziness, skin problems and nausea.
"No one knew exactly what it was so they cleaned it up the wrong way," Harrington said. "Two students were burned, and our staff was exposed to it. That started us down the road of trying to figure out ‰?| how safe is this environment?"
Harrington's ensuing inquiry eventually led to a state audit, released Wednesday, that looked into Cal State's safety measures in the handling of hazardous materials.
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