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July 11, 2013

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Labs criticized over toxic materials

SHANGHAI police have criticized university science departments and hospital labs over their management of toxic chemicals, after a student was fatally poisoned.

Institute procedures are lax in the purchase, usage, storage and disposal of toxic chemicals, said police yesterday.

Problems surfaced after 28-year-old Fudan University post-graduate student Huang Yang was allegedly poisoned by his roommate on April 1.

A medical postgraduate student, identified as Lin, has been charged with murder.

"Toxic materials were illegally bought on the Internet for lab experiments, then ended up in the wrong hands," said Shan Xuewei, a deputy chief with Shanghai Police's security administration.

Shan said this is a long-term phenomenon among some labs in universities, scientific institutes and hospitals. Police inspected more than 300 labs.

Dangerous substances were stored long after experiments had been concluded and their labelling lost, police found.

"Some staff and lab technicians have not received the necessary training for the job," said Shan.

These problems have come under closer scrutiny following the Fudan case.

Huang fell ill on April 1 after drinking water from a dispenser in the room he shared with Lin. He died of poisoning on April 16.

Police later identified the poison in the case as N-Nitrosodimethylamine.

It is alleged that Lin stole this from the university lab and put it into the dispenser around noon on March 31.

Shan claimed yesterday that the chemical was bought online by one of Lin's senior students and later improperly stored in lab.

Police and work safety authorities said they are training lab staff in Shanghai to eliminate potential dangers.

Checks on the toxic chemicals will be increased from the current once-a-month basis.

And crackdowns on the illegal sale and transport of toxic and chemical goods are on the way, officials said.

Qi Jun, director with Shanghai Work Safety Authority, said the government should deliver specific chemicals for institutes to use in experiments to stop lab staff turning to illegal channels.

The director said lab staff told him they usually need toxic chemicals in very small quantity, which are only available through illegal means.

"Buying it on the Internet is the fastest way," said Qi.


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