Chemistry Blog



Dec 27

Arrest Warrant Issued for Patrick Harran

by mitch | Categories: Uncategorized | (39576 Views)

The L.A. County district attorney’s office charged Patrick Harran with three felony charges of willfully violating occupational health and safety standards, in connection with a laboratory fire that killed Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji.

LA Times has the story here: UC system, UCLA professor charged in lab fire that killed staffer.

As always, I hope covering this case will inspire others to think twice about safely working with pyrophorics and hopefully cajole professors into leaving their office and personally instructing their workers in proper technique. This story will be continually updated for the foreseeable future as press releases and statements are given.

Update 1: UCLA issues a statement



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  1. Anneliese

    I really just wish that the people who are working with these chemicals will think about what they’re doing. She killed herself.

  2. Dr. Zoidberg

    Good God. I’m not a Harran supporter/fan, but this seems like overkill. If this is what authorities are going to do, maybe they need to go after the chemical suppliers who sold Karen Wetterhahn dimethyl mercury with an MSDS stating that latex gloves were adequate protection.

    1. Lillah

      A pleasilgny rational answer. Good to hear from you.

  3. azmanam

    wow. just wow.

  4. Chemjobber

    It’s my assumption that very few chemists think that Patrick Harran deserves a jail sentence for his (lack of) actions. I’d love to hear otherwise.

  5. Nick

    If he wanted to do chemistry with such dangerous chemicals, he should had hired a postdoc. A person professionally trained to do such jobs, an expert who has used before such chemicals and has a proven record, a person who has deeply understood the risks that he is undertaking with doing such job. Of course this person has to be paid real money and he is not free as an undergrad is. You pay for his experience and expertise. Wouldn’t you hire a fluorine chemistry expert to do work with fluorine gas? Some chemicals are very serious business, and one of them is t-BuLi. This was totally irresponsible in his part.

    1. Rosalind Harper

      She was a research technician with a degree in chemistry–not an undergraduate researcher. Agreed that Dr. Harran probably assumed too much of her technical ability, and that she had enough common sense to protect herself.

  6. Dangerous Bill

    I think the level of the charges is appropriate. Someone needs to drive home that chemistry can be dangerous. At the very least, it will keep the incident from fading quickly into history as just another unfortunate happening, so everyone can go back to cowboy chemistry, taking shortcuts and doing things the way they did before. PIs from coast to coast will watch what happens to Harran and think twice before leaving students unsupervised with deadly reagents.

    I recall an incident in my own institution where a supervisor sent off a student to ‘make some phosgene’ without further instruction. Fortunately, the student, after researching methods, came to me to ask which was the best one. At this point, I brought the roof down on the supervisor.

  7. Captain Pegleg

    A BS-level chemist’s take on all this…

  8. Tyrosine

    Safety is so important and this might be the wake up call academia needs to lift its game. On the other hand, the over reaction by university administration might lead to banning the use of dangerous chemicals, which of course they pretty much all are.

  9. Fleaker

    Accidents happen and so do tragedies.

    It seems a stretch that Dr. Harran willfully violated safety principles and a shame that some would let him be the whipping boy to drive the point home or “keep the incident from fading”. This is a man’s life we’re talking about, not merely a career–he should not be convicted of a felony. Now if she had come to him and said, “I’ve never used this chemical, I’m aware that it is very reactive and I need some advice on safe handling” and he told her off, then he’s got it coming. Chemistry is a team sport. I can say shame on the PI and the post docs for not knowing what chemistry is going on in the group. If and only if he did know she was using that reagent and knew she had no training for it, then I do agree that he should pay the piper. The tBuLi isn’t a death sentence in the hands of the unskilled, but he should have been cognizant that it was exceedingly dangerous for a novice to use.

    If I were to injure myself using a chemical I’d no experience with, but had the resources of the web, the literature, PPE available, books on air-free technique, post-docs in my lab who’ve used it before, and a PI that I could ask, I could not ever hold anyone liable for my injury. It would be my responsibility to use all of those resources at my disposal to execute my experiment safely.

    I’ve handled much worse things than tert-butyl lithium and managed it safely by taking proper precautions and thinking very carefully about what could happen and what the plan would be if something went amiss. Chemistry can be dangerous. So can driving.

    Coming from the perspective of someone stuck in industry but who remembers his stay in academia, there is MUCH more oversight and regulation in industry today.

    PIs are often so out of touch with the minutia occurring in their labs that it would not surprise me if Dr. Harran had no idea that she was using this reagent. Nonetheless, it was her duty to inform the post-docs and anyone else in the lab that she was using that chemical. When I was in school, whenever we were using exceptionally hazardous chemicals (i.e. LAH, phosgene, organometallics, peroxide radical initiators, poisons) we would warn our lab mates and have them check over the setup for potential flaws and make sure there was a plan. I would check or help the grad students,they would check me if I were about to do something unsafe. We read the MSDS and looked at the health/flammability/reactivity and hazards and planned accordingly. It was accident avoidance. Check the chem compatibilities, run small scale to pilot/develop proper technique, have exit strategy if it went foul. We knew we could never eliminate the possibility of an accident, but we could strive for that asymptote of low probability.

  10. Concerned Chemist

    One aspect of this that hasn’t been talked about at all is what about the graduate students in the professors lab? Worst case scenario, if Patrick Harran goes to prison, what will happen to them during all of this? And even if that doesn’t happen, I can’t imagine they will be unaffected. Will the lab continue normal operations or will they be suspended? I assume that the school administration won’t penalize Harran or his lab in anyway, as this might be considered some sort of admission of guilt?

  11. Alex Carpenter

    I think you are overstating your case a bit. Any organic chemist who has done anything has worked extensively with n-BuLi and t-BuLi. I would argue that these reagents (though dangerous) are run-of-the-mill. Everything in a chemistry lab either poisons you, burns you or gives you cancer. The hazards are simply a risk of the job. It is an utter tragedy that the girl got killed. I can understand the arguement that UCLA and Harran, perhaps could have done more. But, Felony Charges???? Really?

    The charges seem to be a witch hunt or a tour of revenge for the victim’s family.

    Why is nobody stating the obvious? Chem labs are inherently dangerous. Accidents happen and people sometimes dye. I would argue a career as a chemist is the same as one in the military. It is a career of service why you risk your life to better society.

  12. another victum

    For those that think Harran is being treated harshly, look at his safety record at his former university in Dallas. Anyone spot a trend?!

  13. azhakesanpillai

    Dear sir I am making home made detergents and liquid cleaners I need more recipes and formula in house hold disinfectant products . Awaiting an early positive response .

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