Hazardous compounds – a learning experience
Posted by naturalproductman on October 11, 2013
I’ve dealt with many hazardous chemicals and safety is an important issue. I think anybody working in a chemistry lab should be in the habit of always wearing eye protection (i.e. safety glasses), lab coat (cover your arms), and gloves. Also running reactions in a working fumehood.
I am going to share a story I personally experienced because it is important for any practicing chemist to be careful.
I was in a lab where a new postdoc had joined and the person had taken my saturated NaHCO3 (sodium bicarbonate) (aq.) solution bottle and replaced it with Na2S2O3 (sodium thiosulfate) (I am assuming the postdoc was using this sodium thiosulfate solution to workup “their” Dess-Martin periodinane reaction). The mistake the person had made was when they did not remove my label of NaHCO3 on the bottle and just used a permanent marker with “their” Na2S2O3 marking. Here was the hazard: I used this bicarbonate solution to wash my mCPBA (in diethyl ether) to remove the benzoic acid impurity in the commercially available mCPBA. The reaction I was performing was a sulfoxide elimination of a phenyl sulfide substituent. Well when I did not see that my label was changed in my bottle and I did the usual wash of mCPBA (about 3 g) in diethyl ether and saturated NaHCO3 in a separatory funnel, the stuff just heated up and the solution went everywhere – including my face and neck and left arm. I should also mention that I was wearing safety glasses and latex gloves. Yes I did not wear a lab coat and I learned my lesson. However – when I pointed out in the lab that somebody had changed the NaHCO3 solution to Na2S2O3 by indicating the smeared Sharpee mark of Na2S2O3, the postdoc, who I had suspected of doing it immediately said “WHO DID IT?” That weekend I had come in on Saturday and observed the postdoc washing my bottle of “NaHCO3″ out with soap and water.
Of course the person ended up denying it and when I finally confronted the person months later and indicated the scars that were left from the accident, the person finally apologized. Sometimes an apology is all you need – it really did make me feel better. And yes I do still have some scars from that incident only to remind myself of the importance of a lab coat and sometimes even a face shield. I of course always wear a lab coat when I am working in the lab now. Accidents are unpredictable and happen to the best of us, you just never know what is going to happen in the lab even if it wasn’t on purpose because they are just accidents. Having proper personal protective equipment (i.e. lab coat, safety glasses, gloves) can help us minimize damages.