Researchers' Deaths Inspire Actions To Improve Safety

'GREAT SHOCK': The June 1997 death of Karen Wetterhahn from an accident that had occurred months earlier stunned the scientific community. Like any profession, life science research has dangers, but fortunately, deaths are rare. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported only six fatalities in biological and life sciences, and 17 fatalities in all natural sciences, for 1994, the most recent year for which data are available. So when Dartmouth College chemist Karen Wetter

Ricki Lewis
Oct 26, 1997


'GREAT SHOCK': The June 1997 death of Karen Wetterhahn from an accident that had occurred months earlier stunned the scientific community.
Like any profession, life science research has dangers, but fortunately, deaths are rare. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported only six fatalities in biological and life sciences, and 17 fatalities in all natural sciences, for 1994, the most recent year for which data are available. So when Dartmouth College chemist Karen Wetterhahn died in June from spilling dimethylmercury on her glove months earlier, the scientific community was stunned. "It was a great shock that such a thing could happen," says Thomas Clarkson, chairman of the department of environmental medicine at the University of Rochester. "Chemists synthesize new compounds all the time. I remember the days when chemists tasted their compounds to help identify them!"

Deaths associated with scientific research often stimulate actions to improve safety in research...