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Firm Fined For Chemist's Death

Safety: Sepracor Canada admits lack of lab ventilation in worker fatality case

by Jyllian N. Kemsley
May 5, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 19

Credit: Michel Daigle
Credit: Michel Daigle

Drugmaker Sepracor Canada pleaded guilty in a Canadian court on May 2 to one charge of failing to provide proper workplace ventilation and will pay a US$47,000 fine for the death of chemist Roland Daigle.

Daigle died on Oct. 8, 2008, from lung failure after exposure to trimethylsilyldiazomethane (TMSD) in a quality control laboratory at the company's Windsor, Nova Scotia, facility.

The plea and fine were part of a deal in which the prosecutor dropped four other charges against the company, a subsidiary of Sunovion Pharmaceuticals. The other charges involved hazardous material training, use of personal protective equipment, and maintaining the security of the accident scene.

The day before he died, Daigle, 46, worked with TMSD, (CH3)3SiCHN2, when lab fume hoods were not operating because of roof work. TMSD can be used as a methylating reagent in place of diazomethane, which is explosive. When inhaled, diazomethane can also cause fatal lung damage akin to that experienced by Daigle. It is unclear whether TMSD has the same toxic properties as diazomethane, or whether Daigle's lung damage was caused by breakdown products or residual diazomethane (Clin. Toxicol., DOI: 10.1080/15563650903076924).

Daigle's family is disappointed that court proceedings did not explain why Daigle and coworkers worked in the lab without adequate ventilation, says a statement prepared by the family and obtained by C&EN from Lynda MacDonald, Daigle's sister. The statement adds that $47,000 "is but a slap on the hand of a giant pharmaceutical company."

"Sepracor Canada continues to mourn Roland Daigle's loss as well as to extend its sympathies to Roland's family and many friends," Sunovion spokeswoman Susan Adler says. Adler adds that the Nova Scotia Department of Labour & Advanced Education did not recommend any changes to work practices at the Windsor facility after department officials investigated Daigle's death.

At least one other chemist has also died in recent years from TMSD exposure. On Jan. 4, 2008, 24-year-old chemist Jason Siddell died after spilling TMSD at chemical company Gelest in Morrisville, Pa. The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration cited Gelest for violating hazard communication standards, and the company paid a $1,500 fine.



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