I would like to know when working in the Chemistry lab would be hazardous to health in the long term. Because as everyone who worked in the chemistry lab knows that they would be handling many compounds that are harmful to human health. Many of those reagents for example especially organic ones are carcinogenic. While some are toxic to humans. Even with safety precaution, we would inevitably be exposed to those chemicals when working with them such as inhaling them. So actually I wonder whether it is safe to work in the chemistry lab especially with so many carcinogens. Im afraid of getting cancer due to this.
(I'm already halfway through my undergrad chemistry course.)

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    $\begingroup$ There has probably been a serious study on this, but I'll give you some anecdotal evidence. I work in a group that has chemists that have been in the lab for 35, 35, 40, and 50 years carrying out organic synthesis (and some radiosynthesis). None of them have any health problems that can be attributed to chemical exposure. I am more concerned with lab accidents (fire, etc). With proper precautions, chemistry can be performed safely in both the short and long term. $\endgroup$ – jerepierre Aug 22 '14 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ unless you have some specific conditions, say allergy, and have no plans to work in dangerous field, you are safe. Granted, there are many hazardous substances in some labs because of their field of work, but most have toxic dose that cannot accidentally do damage in case of all safety rules are followed. There are, however, some things to avoid, so consider taking toxicology course =). $\endgroup$ – permeakra Aug 22 '14 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ Just be careful and follow all safety procedures. Labs do contain harmful substances, and mishandling can lead to fires, explosions, or contamination. Accidents can and have lead to deaths before, as illustrated by this UCLA incident latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/12/… and even if you're following protocol, extremely toxic compounds can still kill you, as illustrated here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_Wetterhahn If done right, laboratory work is safe, but you must take responsibility for your safety and follow the protocols. $\endgroup$ – user137 Aug 22 '14 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ It highly depends on a lot of factors given that no two labs are necessarily identical. As a computational chemist, the only dangerous thing I run into is distraction. Two monitor screens can lead to a serious case of distraction. I should probably go see a doctor. $\endgroup$ – LordStryker Sep 8 '14 at 11:08
  • $\begingroup$ I have (hopefully) narrowed the question and was wondering if it can be reopened in its current form. $\endgroup$ – Tom Au Feb 12 '18 at 20:59

May I start with a disclaimer saying that whatever long term studies can be done, this will always be a subjective question. All I can do here is offer a few comparisons and examples to show that you shouldn't (in my opinion) be worried.

There answer to the question "Am I more likely to come into contact with carcinogenic/hazardous substances than a regular person?" is quite likely yes. At undergraduate level you will be using a range of strong, harmful, poisonous etc. substances that you could not get outside of a lab environment or at school.

However, the answer to the question "Am I more likely to suffer poor health as a result of working in a lab?" is more difficult.

As you correctly state in your question, there are always many safety procedures in place when you undertake experiments which have been carefully thought, require the scientists to have some minimum level of training in the techniques (perhaps learning with less dangerous substances) out and always err on the side of safe rather than sorry. I myself have been working with a new nanotube based material recently and though unlikely to be carcinogenic, all experiments were to be carried out using gloves in a fume cupboard with extraction as the material hasn't been fully classified or tested yet (again: "safe rather than sorry").

Of course, there are unfortunate cases (for example Marie Curie), but in this day and age the risk assessments are so extensive and always erring on the side of caution that the chance of something going terribly wrong are no worse, I feel, than something catastrophic happening in many other walks of life (e.g. mountaineering accident, plane crash, shark attack).

One perhaps reassuring and rather amusing case is that you are far less likely to succumb to terminal cancer if you work in the nuclear industry by virtue of the extensive risk assessments, precautions and health checks. There is so much safety in place at a reactor, that exposure is minimal (indeed, the background radiation from radon in Cornwall is higher than that next to a nuclear power plant!!) and the industry provides so many health checks for workers that and cancer (radiation induced or natural) is often picked up at a very early, curable stage. Earlier than if you simply went to a doctor when you began to feel ill as a regular person.

Therefore depending on the policy of your employer, you could in fact be at a lower risk of dying from cancer, and I see no need for you to worry for your health in the lab!!

As mentioned when I started, this is a subjective issue, but I really see no need for worry.




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