WHO: Lab Technician

WHERE: Australia

A lab technician who was not wearing a lab coat spilled hydrofluoric acid on his lap. His body's absorption of the fluoride--not the burns--killed him over the course of 2 weeks. His leg was amputated seven days after the spill and died after two weeks due to organ failure caused by fluoride poisoning. Please remember to wear the lab coat, that's your first layer of protection in case of a chemical spill.

WHO: Two Students, One Security Guard

WHEN: May 2012

WHERE: Princeton University, Frick Laboratory

A student accidentally added waste solvents to commonly used nitric acid solution. A violent reaction resulted, releasing fumes and splashing onto the student's face causing very severe first degree burns. Another student and a security guard responding to the incident suffered irritation from the vapors.

WHO: Group of Lab Students

WHEN: April 2005

WHERE: Ohio State University Chemistry Laboratory

Bottles of hexane were unloaded into a storage shelf when the shelf collapsed, breaking open the containers and releasing vapors. The fumes ignited in an explosion which destroyed the lab. The source of ignition of the fumes is unknown.


WHO: Researcher in Private Laboratory

WHEN: September 2011

WHERE: Menlo Park, California

A researcher mixing gases including hydrogen, butane, nitrogen and methane into a gas cylinder exploded upon adding more methane due to the container becoming over-pressurized. The researcher was reportedly thrown 15 feet, receiving a fatal wound to the chest.


WHO: Sheharbano Sangji

WHEN: December 2008

WHERE: UCLA Chemistry Lab

A 23 year old laboratory assistant was drawing up volatile tert-butyllithium into a syringe when some of the liquid spilled on her clothes which then ignited. She received third degree burns which killed her two weeks later. Sangji was not wearing a lab coat at the time and her professor was ordered to face criminal charges in 2013 for violating occupational safety standards that led to the death of his student.

WHO: Preston Brown

WHEN: January 2010

WHERE: Texas Tech

Graduate student Preston Brown was synthesizing the compound nickel hydrazine perchlorate when he began to grind his product in a mortar and pestle. He was instructed, however, to make 0.01g of this product but resulted in 10g, 1000 times more. The substance detonated in the mortar, blowing off three fingers on Brown's left hand, lacerating his right hand, and perforating his left eye--a painful accident that could have easily been prevented.

WHO: Michele Dufault

WHEN: 13 April 2011

WHERE: Yale University, Sterling Chemistry Lab

A 22 year old undergraduate student died of asphyxiation when her hair became tangled in a lathe at the University's Sterling Chemistry Laboratory's machine shop. She was known to have experience with the operation of the machine.  When operating any machinery, or even near a heat source in a lab it's important to keep your hair pulled back

WHO: Karen Wetterhahn

WHEN: 1997

WHERE: Dartmouth College

A renowned Dartmouth professor and an expert in toxic metals was killed when dimethylmercury compound absorbed through her latex gloves and came in contact with her skin. She slowly deteriorated into a vegetative state 10 months following her initial exposure to the substance. Wetterhahn took all known precautions to protect against accidental exposure and still succumbed to the dangers of the lab.

Freak Chemistry Lab Accidents

Chemistry labs can be rife with dangers. If chemistry is not already an anxiety-inducing subject on its own, you can now fear for your life as well. The following are actual accidents that occurred in labs. Note: The vast majority of lab accidents are preventable by following instructions and procedures carefully, reading MSDS and knowing exactly what you are working with, and just being aware of what you are doing.