Fatal UCLA Fire Prompts Scrutiny of Lab Safety

LOS ANGELES

On Dec. 29, a UCLA research assistant working on an organic chemistry experiment was severely burned when the chemical compound she was working on caught fire. Two and a half weeks later she died of her injuries. The accident has put UCLA’s lab safety under a microscope.

Sheri Sangji, 23, sustained burns over 43 percent of her body during a flash fire that, according to the Los Angeles Times, started while she was using a plastic syringe to extract from a sealed container a small quantity of t-butyl lithium. The chemical ignites instantly when exposed to air.

Prior to the accident, inspectors had found several problems with the lab, including the improper storage of liquids and workers not wearing protective lab coats. The deficiencies were supposed to be fixed by Dec. 5, but at the time of the incident, corrective action had not been taken.

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