Lesson Learned - Improperly Vented Experiment Causes Explosion and Burns

What happened?

A graduate student working in a UC Berkeley laboratory was performing a series of evaporation procedures outside of a fume hood using a general-purpose electric pump and a roto-evaporator that had no exhaust equipment. In an effort to make the solvent recovery more efficient, the student applied a vacuum to the condenser tower but quickly turned the pump off because the vacuum was too strong. By that time, the pump exhaust had already formed an explosive mixture of the acetone and ether vapors which ignited when the power shut-off switch was activated, resulting in second and third degree burns to the hand of the student.

Lessons learned from this incident include:

  • When working with flammable extractions, work should be performed in a fume hood or the equipment exhaust should be properly vented.
  • If unfamiliar with a particular procedure or piece of equipment, prepare or refer to an existing written Standard Operating Procedure.
  • Principal Investigators and/or lab supervisors should provide close oversight of new students.
  • Students should ask for assistance when faced with unfamiliar situations or equipment.


Resources

  1. Fact Sheet: Fume Hoods (PDF)
  2. Fact Sheet: Laboratory-Specific Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) (PDF)
  3. For more information regarding laboratory safety, contact Phil Maynard, Campus EH&S Laboratory Safety Specialist, pmaynard@berkeley.edu, 510-643-7699.