Safety as part of manuscript review

The journal Organic Process Research & Development published an editorial last week on What Is OPRD’s Responsibility toward Safe Chemistry?, by associate editor and Bristol-Myers Squibb chemist Jaan Pesti. The whole thing is well worth reading, but I’ll extract just a couple of paragraphs.


Recently, we received a manuscript that described kilo-lab-scale chemistry conducted at 100 °C without solvent and open to the atmosphere. Further inquiry revealed that no prior investigation of possible thermal events had been conducted beyond running the reaction many times in the lab, possibly at escalating scale, and observing no measurable heat generation. We found this disturbing on several levels, (1) that no ARC, DSC, ARSST, or calorimetric work had been done on the reaction with or without possible impurities (e.g., iron) that can catalyze decompositions and (2) that the institution submitting the paper did not possess resources to adequately examine potentially dangerous chemistry nor have procedures in place to do so.

This strikes me as a failure of the chemistry education system. Whether this was an academic or industrial institution, obviously the people involved were not taught the importance of evaluating reactions for safety. Pesti adds that “the fact that a reaction was conducted without incident numerous times at the bench is not confirmation of its safety.”


As part of the editorial mandate that you have granted us for OPRD, we reserve the right to refuse manuscripts where we believe the process is unsafe as described or to demand further elaboration of potentially unsafe circumstances. There is a certain basic level of safety acumen that we expect our readers and contributors to possess as experienced scientists and engineers, but chemicals, operations, or procedures that hold the possibility to surprise must be planned and conducted in a proper manner and emphasized as such in the text. Therefore, for any future submissions to OPRD, we expect safety to be an integral part of the manuscript and that this testing be mentioned or discussed in the body of the manuscript if there is a good reason to do so.

I’m curious to hear if anyone publishing in other journals has ever had an editor or reviewer question the safety of the methods described in a manuscript. Or has anyone ever been concerned about safety but not said anything because that’s not typically seen as a reviewer’s job?

(Another plug for OPRD: In 2003, the journal also started including in its Nov/Dec issue a special feature on safety as well as safety highlights from scientific literature. Here’s 2009.)

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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