Lab Rats: When Working in Science Turns Dangerous

By Irma Arkus

It is important to remind ourselves that recent deterioration of labour rights and working conditions does not only entail low skilled jobs, but those of higher skilled workers as well. I present to you the case of Becky McClain, a Pfizer molecular biologist, who has been battling her employer over disclosure of exposure to dangerous, cancer-causing chemicals.

Safe working environment is not only desired by workers in distant lands of seemingly infinite cheap labour – lack of safe working conditions will also affect YOU, and your friends and family.


Becky McClain is a 23-year career molecular biologist who has worked on cutting edge technologies in mouse embryonic stem cell, vaccine development, molecular genetics, neurobiology and developmental biology research within both academia and private industry.

In 2002-2004 she incurred biological exposures at Pfizer, Groton, CT from a biological hood and co-worker using a Lentivirus on her lab bench next to her desk. As a result of requesting the Lentivirus exposure records through OSHA she was terminated and filed a lawsuit in 2006. On April 1, 2010 she won her federal lawsuit against Pfizer, Inc. for whistleblower and freedom of speech claims. Pfizer still refuses to give her the Lentivirus exposure records.

The speech was given in New Britain, CT at the AFSCME Council 4 union office advocating worker rights to their biological exposure records for directed healthcare and public health and safety issues to be addressed to prevent work-related illness, to provide a safe work environment, and to protect the public’s health and safety.