Lessons Learned: Finger-stick with DCM Chemical

Finger-stick with DCM Chemical

Lesson Learned

While we may feel comfortable with the chemicals used for research and discovery, even with the proper safety measures in place (i.e., personal protective equipment and safety data sheets on file), the effects of even the most common chemicals on human physiology are still being discovered. We must continue to be vigilant in practicing safe science bearing that in mind.

What Happened

In February, French chemist, Dr. Sebastien Vidal, posted a picture of an injured student's finger alongside the question:

“Which solvent could have caused such injury after poking one’s finger with a syringe and injecting 1-2 drops of solvent?” alongside this image of his student’s finger.

The answer to Dr. Vidal's question is dichloromethane (DCM, methylene chloride).

A needle was being used to inject DCM into a flask, when both the rubber stopper and the needle came off of the flask in an upward motion, and the natural downward reflex movement caused the student to prick a finger on the opposite other hand, which was holding the neck of the flask.

The student was wearing nitrile gloves during setup, and immediately stopped the reaction setup and notified Dr. Vidal. Within 1-2 minutes of the accidental injection, the skin around the injection site had turned purple and started necrotizing.

Although the needle only penetrated 1mm into the skin, the injury required emergency surgery and a 3-month recovery period. Immediate medical attention allowed the student to save the finger.

Dr. Vidal expressed his shock, relief, and concern regarding this incident via Twitter; and has devoted himself to educating others about the dangers of working with DCM. It's a very commonly used solvent and one Dr. Vidal's lab uses every day for glycosylation reactions.

Dr. Vidal is working to update DCM's safety data sheet to include injection among the first aid measures it describes (alongside inhalation, ingestion, eye contact and skin contact).

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