Soldiers on the front lines were not the only ones to take casualties during the war - experimental lab work was an unpredictable
and sometimes dangerous business. The workers were often surrounded by corrosive acids, explosive powders, poisons, and toxic
gases. In the crowded and busy labs of World War II-era technical institutes like Caltech and MIT, accidents were inevitable.
The mass production of chemicals for experimental use began in the early 20th century. Companies like Eastman Kodak, DuPont,
and Hercules found a market in the burgeoning U.S. scientific community and by the early 1940s, business was booming. Indeed,
to meet the demands of the military and private institutions, America's major chemical companies were producing on a scale
much larger than they were accustomed to. As a result, quality control was stretched thin and mistakes occurred.
On September 23, 1943, a bottle of ethyl chlorocarbonate exploded in the hands of Elizabeth Swingle, the Stockroom Keeper
at Caltech's Crellin Laboratories and the wife of researcher Stanley Swingle. She suffered major tissue damage and passed
away at the Huntington Memorial Hospital approximately eight hours after the accident.
The Caltech staff was deeply affected by their colleague's death. Pauling delivered a speech at her memorial in which he
praised her kindness and "strong love of humanity." Pauling then contacted Eastman Kodak, the company that had supplied Caltech
with the ethyl chlorocarbonate, and demanded that they investigate the accident, their manufacturing and shipping techniques,
and provide written warnings to other customers. He received updates from representatives of Eastman Kodak on their internal
investigation through the spring of 1944. Ultimately, the accident helped force both Caltech and Eastman Kodak to seriously
examine safety precautions and to make changes accordingly.
Swingle's accident was far from the only one. Sam Ruben, an Official Investigator at the University of California, died only
five days after Elizabeth Swingle. He had been commissioned by the OSRD to study phosgene as a potential chemical weapon
and, on September 27, was exposed to toxic quantities of the substance and passed away the following day. Nationally, the
number of industrial accidents during the war was astronomical. In a 1944 report, the War Production Board estimated that
more than 35,000 industrial workers were killed and a minimum of 200,000 permanently injured between December 1941 and January
1944. The majority of these accidents occurred in connection with the collection of raw materials or the manufacture of goods
for military use.