Karen Wetterhahn

Karen Wetterhahn

Karen Wetterhahn (October 16, 1948 - June 8 1997) was a well-known professor of chemistry at Dartmouth College specializing in toxic metal exposure. On August 14 1996, while working with an organic mercury compound called dimethylmercury, she spilled a drop or two on her latex glove. Five months later, she noticed some neurologic symptoms such as loss of balance and slurred speech. She was admitted to the hospital, where it was discovered that the single exposure to dimethylmercury had raised her blood mercury level to 4,000 micrograms per liter, or 20 times the toxic threshold. Toxic blood level is reported to be > 200 μg/L, normal range is 1-8 μg/L. [Nierenberg D. W. "et al." "Delayed Cerebellar Disease and Death After Accidental Exposure to Dimethylmercury." "The New England Journal of Medicine" 1998, 1672-1676. ] Despite aggressive chelation therapy, her condition rapidly deteriorated and three weeks after first symptoms appeared she fell into a coma and died a few months later, less than a year after her initial exposure.

Wetterhahn's death shocked her chemistry department, as the accidental exposure occurred despite the use of gloves, a fume hood, and adherence to standard safety procedures. Her colleagues then tested various safety gloves against dimethylmercury and found that the small, apolar molecule diffuses through most of them in seconds, much faster than expected. Dimethylmercury was the common calibration standard for 199Hg NMR spectroscopy, as it has certain advantages over the alternatives that exist. [ [http://www.chem.northwestern.edu/~ohallo/HgNMRStandards 199Hg NMR Standards ] ] OSHA recommendations [ [http://www.osha.gov/dts/hib/hib_data/hib19980309.html Dimethylmercury ] ] and MSD Sheets [https://fscimage.fishersci.com/msds/99021.htm] were changed in consequence and use of dimethylmercury has been highly discouraged.

Dartmouth has established an award in her name to encourage other women in science.


ee also

*Mercury poisoning

External links

* [http://www.udel.edu/OHS/dartmouth/drtmtharticle.html Detailed Dartmouth Alumni Association Article about her]
* [http://www.dartmouth.edu/~toxmetal/HMKW.shtml Dartmouth Toxic Metal Research page on her]
* [http://www-apps.niehs.nih.gov/sbrp/products/products11.cfm US Government page on the award]
* [http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/motm/dimethylmercury/dmmh.htm Page touching on dimethylmercury and Wetterhahn]
* [http://www.osha.gov/dts/hib/hib_data/hib19980309.html OSHA Material Data Sheet changed as a result of the Accident]

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  • Karen Wetterhahn — (* 16. Oktober 1948; † 8. Juni 1997) war eine US amerikanische Chemikerin und Professorin am Dartmouth College in Hanover (New Hampshire). Ihr Fachgebiet war die Toxizität von Metallen, wobei sie die Zusammenarbeit zwischen Biologen, Chemikern,… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Karen Wetterhahn — (16 octobre 1948 8 juin 1997) est une chimiste américaine. Elle a mené de nombreuses recherches sur les effets des métaux lourds sur la santé. En 1996, elle menait des études sur les interactions entre les ions mercure et la… …   Wikipédia en Français

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