The Sacramento Bee
by Hannah Holzer
June 3, 2021
In May of 2017, Holly Gildea, a 23-year-old graduate student researcher in neuroscience at UC Berkeley, was working in her thesis lab when she sustained a chemical burn on her leg and hand. A freezer in Gildea’s lab that operates at minus 80 degrees Celsius had accidentally thawed. Unbeknownst to Gildea and her labmates, tubes stored in the freezer that contained phenol, which is toxic, had started to leak.
While moving the tubes from the thawed freezer to a nearby rescue freezer, the leaking phenol dripped onto Gildea’s hand and pant leg. A few minutes later, Gildea noticed that the synthetic jacket she was wearing over her clothes had started to disintegrate.
Graduate student researchers, like the now 27-year-old Gildea, do not have the same workplace protections that their unionized peers do even though they perform similar, or even identical, work. That’s why, after Gildea was rushed to the on-campus emergency health center, she was billed for her medical care despite sustaining second-degree chemical burns at work.