Even if you do not consider yourself a scientist in the true sense of the word, I’m sure that we can all admit to at least one science experiment going awry. I can think of a few situations that I may have gotten into during my high school science classes. While not a science experiment per say I do recall the eyeball of the frog I was dissecting launching itself halfway across the room, and another situation where (much to the dismay of my chemistry teacher) my science partner and I learned the hard way how to properly mix acids and water. Let’s just say there was an incident…but the classroom did not have to be evacuated.
If you cannot recall fond memories of high school, college or university classes, then at the very least I think we can all attest to having forgotten some leftovers or other food items stuffed at the back of the fridge only to find weeks or month later that you’ve unwittingly created a science experiment. It happens at work all the time. So much so that we get emails every month asking us to check the fridges for any food we may have forgotten to eat or take home. I won’t name names, but there are some repeat offenders. They know who they are and now they know I know……
But what happens when accidents happen in the “real” world, meaning in actual laboratories? I think many of us can recall a couple of news stories where biosecurity breaches or lapses occurred. If not, let me remind you. Do you recall the case in Atlanta when several vials of smallpox were left unattended in an unused storage room? How about the time that there was a temporary closure of laboratories (also in Atlanta) due to potentially infectious live anthrax samples being exported to labs that were not equipped to handle them? Better yet, the accidental contamination of a relatively benign flu sample with the dangerous H5N1 bird flu strain???
The truth is mistakes happen. Unfortunately the ones that I’ve highlight above could have had very dire consequences. This highlights the importance of following biosecurity guidelines when handling specimens and also understanding how to properly decontaminate the areas after potential exposure during a breach in biosecurity. Most importantly, it highlights the need how to properly manage a lab environment on a day to day basis. Certainly we hear of the scary stories that can be sensationalized in the news cycle, but every day there are lab technicians working with samples (human or animal) helping to identify a disease or the cause of an illness. Everyday there are people working in environments such as cancer clinics compounding chemotherapy agents that also need to be handled with care.
To highlight the importance of biosecurity and cleaning and disinfection within the lab setting our monthly education campaign “What’s Growing in Your Lab?” focuses specifically on everything you need to know to keep a safe and clean environment. I hope you’ll check it out!