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The Most Famous Four Laboratory Accidents in History

Scientific laboratories contain dangerous chemicals such as strong acids, neurotoxins, in addition to various equipment such as natural gas-guzzling Bunsen burners, high-pressure cookers called autoclaves, and some types of explosive materials. Biology laboratories often contain infectious organisms, posing a threat to students and teachers. So there are some safety tips that must be observed to protect those in the laboratory from exposure to any risk. Despite these strict rules some unintended accidents may sometimes occur. Here are some laboratory accidents that occurred around the world.

 

The explosion of a chemistry lab at Texas Tech University

 

In January 2010, a chemistry lab at Texas Tech University exploded while two students were conducting some experiments to make derivatives of an explosive substance called nickel hydrazine perchlorate. They made a very dangerous mistake: they created 10 grams of the substance, despite the warning of the supervisor not to make more than 100 milligrams. When one of the students crushed the substance with a pestle, a terrible explosion occurred. Fortunately no one died, but the student suffered from burns and lost three fingers.

 

Mercury poisoning

 

In 1997, the famous chemist Karen Wetterhahn died because some drops of dimethylmercury fell on her hands despite wearing gloves. The drops penetrated those gloves, reached the skin, and entered her body. After a few months she began to experience symptoms of mercury poisoning, such as loss of balance and poor speech, vision and hearing ability. She then entered into a coma and died.

 

Criticality Accidents Los Alamos National Laboratory

The criticality accident is an uncontrolled nuclear fission chain reaction. It is sometimes referred to as a critical excursion or a critical power excursion or a divergent chain reaction.

The most famous criticality accident in history occurred at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where Cecil Kelly was exposed to a deadly dose of neutrons and gamma rays when a large platinum tank went critical. Cecil fell to the ground and screamed, “I am burning.”

Initial symptoms immediately appeared, such as collapse and mental incapacitation. When he arrived at the emergency room at the Los Alamos Medical Center, symptoms of the second phase began to appear, such as vomiting, trembling, hyperventilating and his skin began to turn purple and his lips turned blue, indicating hypoxia.

Two hours after the accident, Kelly had entered the third stage, which was the longest. He was suffering from severe abdominal cramps but was very coherent and showed improvement overall. But after 6 hours of the incident, lymphocytes disappeared completely from the blood circulation, which was a sign of the inevitability of death.

Thirty-five hours after the accident, his heartbeat was irregular, the pain in his abdomen was not controlled, his colour became pale, and he died.

 

Marburg virus

In 1967, a group of workers at the Marburg Laboratory in Germany began suffering from various symptoms such as fever, diarrhoea, vomiting and internal bleeding of a group of internal organs, and eventually seven workers died.

After a thorough investigation, scientists identified the cause of the epidemic: it was a pair of monkeys imported from Uganda for polio research.

The monkeys were carrying an extremely dangerous virus that had not been discovered before. They called it the Marburg Virus, named after the city where it was discovered.

Since its discovery, it has remained mysterious; resurfacing, killing, then disappearing. The worst outbreak of the pandemic occurred in Angola in 2005, killing more than 200 people, and no treatment has been discovered so far.

 

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About Mustafa Elhashash

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Research Assistant at Ainshams University, interested in the new technologies in education and scientific research.

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