Students Given Potentially Lethal Doses of Caffeine

School fined for experiment that gave subjects 100 times the intended amount
By Jan Jordan,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 26, 2017 4:27 PM CST
Students Given Potentially Lethal Doses of Caffeine
A little caffeine can boost your day. But the equivalent of 300 cups put two exercise science students at the center of a court case.   (Craig S. Kaplan via AP)

A misplaced decimal point put two students at Northumbria University in the ICU. On Wednesday, a judge fined the UK school about $500,000 for its mishandling of a science experiment in which the students received caffeine dosages 100 times stronger than intended, reports the Telegraph. The two sports science students were supposed to get 0.3 grams of caffeine—equal to three cups of coffee—to measure the drug's effect on exercise. Instead, they were jacked up on about 30 grams—equal to 300 cups. It’s a dose prosecutor Adam Farrer told Newcastle Crown Court “could easily have been fatal,” the BBC reports. And it was enough to put Alex Rossetto and Luke Parkin, both strong athletes, in the hospital and on dialysis for days. Both lost more than 20 pounds but have since recovered and are pursuing civil claims against the university.

But why the error? Actually, a litany of errors, Farrer said, the most critical one being the dosage calculation itself, performed on a mobile phone, that resulted in the error. The school then erred in not having the proper safety checks in place. And it didn't help that the university had recently switched from using tablets to powder. "The staff were not experienced or competent enough and they had never done it on their own before," says Ferrer. "The university took no steps to make sure the staff knew how to do it." The prosecution says it is pleased with the fine and hopes the case sends a message about conducting experiments safely. Message received, the school says. "The university is genuinely sorry." (A father is suing the maker of an energy drink over his son's fatal overdose.)

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