Safety Alerts Archive

Laboratory Safety Alert: Chemical Fire

Worker donning goggles, gloves, and a flame-resistant lab coat for work with air-sensitive procedures. (Photo courtesy of Dow Chemical Company)

Accident and death of a student in the lab

LA County prosecutors filed criminal charges against Professor Patrick Harran and the University of California after Sheri Sangji, a student and research assistant in the lab, was killed due to a lab fire while working with air-sensitive chemicals that burst into flame, ignited her clothing, and spread severe burns over nearly half her body. Patrick Harran is a professor and laboratory director in organic chemistry at UCLA. Investigators say that the student did not have the proper experience nor training to work with the air-sensitive chemicals she handled that ignited and caused her injuries and death.

Details of the investigation report and the news information are available at:


Pyrophoric Materials

Pyrophoric materials can spontaneously ignite in air. Many pyrophoric materials are also reactive to moisture and can react vigorously and ignite with water or high humidity upon contact. These highly reactive materials are typically used for synthesis of organic chemicals. Examples of pyrophoric compounds are alkali metals, metal alkyls and aryls, metal hydrides, metal carbonyls, etc.


General Safety Guidelines

  • Laboratory personnel that will handle and work with pyrophoric materials must have the appropriate experience and skills and receive explicit training in hazards, properties, and use by the principal investigator or designee.
  • Read the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) prior to working with pyrophoric materials.
  • Use personal protective equipment (PPE) that is appropriate for the type of procedure to be performed. PPE include eye protection such as safety glasses, goggles, or a face shield depending on the potential for splatters or splashes; skin protection such as disposable gloves for handling small amounts and heavy chemical-resistant gloves for handling large quantities; and the appropriate type of laboratory coat.
  • Use the material under appropriately controlled conditions such as use of a fume hood or glove box.
  • Know the locations (and use) of the emergency eye wash and safety shower.
  • DO NOT work with highly reactive and highly hazardous chemicals alone (e.g., at night, weekends, holidays, etc.). Be sure to inform others in the lab that you will be working with these chemicals.
  • Procure and store only the amount to be used as required in the experiments. DO NOT overstock.
  • Handle and store the material according to the recommendations in the MSDS provided by the manufacturer (e.g., handle and store in a glove box under dry, inert atmosphere conditions; store inside a container filled with inert gas).
  • Always handle in such a manner that the chemical does NOT come into contact with the atmosphere.
  • Treat spills with extreme caution because of the potential for spontaneous combustion or ignition.
  • Notify EHS of spills.
  • DO NOT clean the spill by yourself. Call a coworker for help.
  • In the event of an exposure, wash with copious amount of water.
  • Treat or dispose small amounts of unused materials appropriately. Call EHS when disposing large amounts.