Somewhere on the campus of a northeastern US university, a set of epoxy footprints across a concrete walkway marks the path of an investigator who left the laboratory after spilling and then stepping in radioisotope phosphorous-32. He had failed to perform a closedown survey before leaving the lab. Radiation officers conducting a routine survey tracked the spill through the lab, down the stairs, and across the campus to the parking lot. Though the hard, polished surfaces inside the building could be completely decontaminated, the porous, outdoor surfaces could not. The outdoor footprints had to be covered with a substance thick enough to shield the passers-by from the radioisotope's decay; thus, the epoxy.

For researchers who have never experienced an accident, lab safety is often a joke. Who hasn't groused over annual training seminars that remind investigators that it is not safe to eat, drink, smoke, or apply cosmetics in the...

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