Every scientist gets lulled into a false sense of security, even by the most unlikely of scenarios. The extent varies with respect to each individual’s level of safety/accident paranoia, but I feel confident in saying it happens to all of us. I was reminded this evening of how the innocuous can easily become the dangerous.

Vacuums always have the potential to be an explosion/implosion hazard. You’re stressing a vessel with negative pressure, which when sufficient enough, can potentially can structural failure of the vessel under (negative internal) pressure. I’m pretty sure most molecular biologists take it for granted that filtering buffers into the pre–sterilized bottle–filter combination is a standard practice with negligible concern. Most of the time, the vacuum cannot build up to such a sufficient degree as to result in compromise of the bottle’s structural integrity. This is likely the case with newer, extruded plastic bottles. Fused, two–piece extruded bottles — although apparently rare these days — are a whole different bag of structural issues. So I learned this evening.

Attempting to filter some 10X modified TBE buffer for doing some EMSAs tomorrow, I discovered just how structurally vulnerable some of Sarstedt’s bottle top + filter combinations can be. Most of the time, I have issues getting a proper seal with their bottles, and pulling a terribly inefficient vacuum. This evening, it seemed to be going that same route; I was getting relatively terrible filtration into the bottle, even though the hydro aspirator vacuum pump was clearly pulling a vacuum (I checked before connecting it to the filtration apparatus). I intended to just wait out the “slow” filtration process, and I went to handle the apparatus to try & improve the vacuum seal. As I grabbed the bottom bottle compartment, it dawned on me that for a split second the plastic buckled inwards and
I feel something sting at my hand, my ears are momentarily ringing, and buffer has sprayed all over the bench.

wide view
close up

The bottle totally gave up along the fused seam on one side that traversed the longitudinal axis of the bottle. Surprisingly & fortunately, none of the resultant shrapnel hit my face1; it did manage to splash some buffer syrup on my laptop & phone2. That resulted in a solid fifteen to twenty minutes to deal with the cleanup. At which point, I just gave up on the rest of the day.

Critical take home message?You can’t predict this stuff. I wasn’t wearing a lab coat, safety goggles, or gloves when this happened, because I assumed it was a non–issue. Clearly, it can be. Will I start wearing all said safety gear next time I’m vacuum–filtering a solution? Likely not, but I certainly will be wearing the relevant PPE when it’s any sort of a solution that could be hazard to whatever part of my body I’m covering up.

Also, I really need to look into the costs of vision correction surgery; contacts are a veritable hazard amplifier in the lab (read: solvents especially), and I am less than thrilled to wear my glasses every day. I am told it can be had as little as sub–CAD$1000 here…*ponders*

1I was wearing contacts today, not to mention no safety goggles on at the time, either. A perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances.
2No, literally, syrup. It dried down like a concentrated sucrose solution (think maple syrup if you don’t know what I’m talking about) and was sticky as all hell. I had to take some legit cleaner to both devices when I got home.

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