Staff claim brain damage from lab leak

January 13, 1995

Staff at De Montfort University are suing their employer alleging negligence because of a chemical leak which they claim has caused them brain and nerve damage.

A writ should be served next week by the trade union, Unison, representing 14 staff. Other staff are suing separately. Unison is also trying to trace staff and students who worked at the university at the time of the leak but may be unaware of alleged long-term consequences of exposure to the chemicals.

The leak occurred in a chemical store at the university over a weekend in October 1991. A mixture of chemicals escaped, releasing enough heat to buckle metal shelving in the store, according to Unison lawyer Doug Brown. Unison also plans to sue Leicestershire Fire Service for its alleged mishandling of the release.

Staff from the chemistry department helped the fire brigade to clean up the area. They also checked the storeroom and listed more than eight chemicals, gas and liquid, that had been released. Unison says that staff symptoms were initially nausea and eye and chest irritations.

Several months later some staff who had been exposed to the chemicals developed psychological problems such as short-term memory loss and irritability.

They have been examined by a clinical psychologist and a neurophysiologist who have confirmed that they show apparently similar patterns of brain damage, the union says.

Sufferers include a senior laboratory technician and a PhD student. The student "will probably never be able to work or study", according to a Unison statement.

The university said that, through its insurers, it will "deal as sympathetically as possible with those who feel they have been affected by the incident".

The Health and Safety Executive did not investigate the incident.

Mr Brown defended the length of time taken to launch the suit. "We have had to get psychological reports and find the right expert," he said. "We are on the forefront of chemical science, dealing with some chemicals whose effects as a combination we do not know."

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 10 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Elly Walton illustration (7 July 2016)

Researchers in the liberal arts seem to have made it their mission to communicate in the most obscure fashion, says Zachary Foster

Daniel Mitchell illustration (14 July 2016)

Frank Furedi says the mournful mood on campus and the disparagement and silencing of Leave supporters betray an isolated scholarly class

Michael Parkin illustration (7 July 2016)

Rising immigration-related costs and lack of employer support send an unwelcoming message to international staff, says Jason Danely

Female Brazilian football/soccer fan celebrating with flag of Brazil, Best universities in Latin America

Brazil leads Times Higher Education’s debut ranking of the top universities in Latin America

People walk past second hand books for sale

Shift may be evidence that researchers feel they are increasingly judged on citations and journal impact factors