As new details emerge in the fatal UCLA lab fire that killed Sheri Sangji, a research assistant in Patrick Harran’s lab, it becomes more evident that UCLA is a dysfunctional department in an environment where the burden of responsibility is placed upon everyone and everything other than that of the university or the department.  The slow decline of UCLA and recent high profile departures suggest a department of infighting and low morale.  From the LA Times:

In electronic missives to university colleagues, Harran complained that UCLA had all but hung him out to dry in the press. In one e-mail, he said that reports in two chemical industry publications “read like an indictment, without having the facts.”

In another, he took issue with a UCLA investigator’s report, which was detailed in a March 1 story in The Times. The report, citing previous lab deficiencies that had gone unfixed, made it “sound like I deliberately did not adhere to policy” and was part of a “culture of neglect,” he wrote.

According to the same article a similar, though non-lethal, incident occurred at the school not but a few weeks ago.

While I pick on UCLA (rightly so) the issue is far more systematic and, as anyone who has gone through graduate school knows, safety training is almost non existent.  I rarely see lab coats on in my own lab, though it’s hypothetically required.  I generally never wore a lab coat until I got an asskickity one as a gift from my boss for making a website for him.  If custom lab coats get people to wear them, then that’s what schools should offer!

I contacted my senator about this issue.  I’ve had good relations with his office and am a strong supporter, but he was unreceptive to the idea.  If you could, for just a moment, pull your cell phone out and call these senators and reference the LA Times article above about the need for universities, who receive federal research grants for science, to provide comprehensive training to all laboratory workers.  You may well do something to help prevent this shit from happening again.  Indeed, maybe even to yourself:

Boxer, Barbara – (D – CA) Senator of CA
112 HART SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
(202) 224-3553
Feinstein, Dianne – (D – CA) Senator of CA
331 HART SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
(202) 224-3841
The Following are members of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Hutchison, Kay Bailey – (R – TX) Ranking Member
284 RUSSELL SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
(202) 224-5922
Rockefeller, John D., IV – (D – WV) Chairman
531 HART SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
(202) 224-6472

The first time you contact an “almighty” senator, you will likely hear the voice of one of his or her staff members. This is quite fine, they’ll dutifully report to the senator any grievances you have so long as they aren’t too grandpa Simpson.

For tips, you would start like you were calling an insurance office asking for information. Introduce yourself, tell them what you do and how you are relevant and then, quite politely, say something like:

I’m not sure if you’re aware of the recent laboratory fire that killed a 23 year old UCLA lab assistant, but having gone/been/are in graduate school I can attest that the safety measures that surrounded this death are all too common. I feel as though because these schools all receive federal funding, it should be within the purview of the senate to require, as a condition of receiving federal funding, to provide life saving training to students and employees. You can read the latest in a recent LA Times article…

Hutchison’s people will likely ponder if that’s really within the purview of the feds and wonder if it’s even worth considering (such is the stalwart nature of Republicans). I would anticipate little to no static from any of the other Democratic senators. You will likely not hear back, but you will still be heard, I assure you. I have spoken with the offices of my senators many times.

NOW DO IT! Or I’ll give you swine flu.

UPDATE:  Answer this poll question!

Tetrabutylammonium acetate is a(n)

  • base (80%, 288 Votes)
  • acid (20%, 72 Votes)

Total Voters: 360

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