Lesson Learned - Exposure to Bromine During a Laboratory Refrigerator Clean-up

What happened?

While performing a chemical inventory inside a laboratory refrigerator, a UC Berkeley graduate student observed the presence of condensate on the inside walls of the refrigerator. This student and two other graduate students proceeded to clean the refrigerator walls, assuming that the condensate was water. When one of the students noticed a bottle of 99% bromine had a small leak, clean-up was immediately stopped, a sign was posted on the door to keep away, and the Department Safety Coordinator (DSC) was notified of the accident. The DSC summoned EH&S clean-up assistance. The researchers reported signs of bromine exposure such as lightheadedness, nausea, and tightness in the chest. They were evaluated and treated at the University Health Center (Tang Center) Urgent Care and released shortly after. The remainder of the bromine spill was cleaned up by the EH&S emergency response team.

Lessons learned from this incident include:

  • In a laboratory, do not assume that an unknown released/spilled clear material is water. Use pH paper or other means to help determine the nature of the release/spill.
  • Clean up spills only if you are familiar with the hazards of the material and have been trained to do so. If the spill is too large or you are not trained and equipped to clean-up the spill, call EH&S at 642-3073.
  • In this case, the leak in the bromine bottle was believed to have been caused by overcrowding inside the refrigerator. More frequent inventory of materials in a laboratory should be conducted to identify materials that are no longer needed. A new refrigerator should be purchased if additional low temperature storage is needed.

Resources

  1. Safe Storage of Hazardous Chemicals Booklet (PDF)
  2. EH&S Fact Sheet - Clutter as a Laboratory Safety Concern (PDF)