A&M lab assistants burned by chemicals


Eagle Staff Writer

Two Texas A&M University laboratory assistants suffered minor burns Wednesday after spilling a mixture of chemicals while working in a sixth-floor laboratory of the Heep Building on campus, officials said.

The two assistants, a graduate student and a post-doctoral student, were treated and released from the College Station Medical Center on Wednesday afternoon, said Kathleen Phillips, a spokeswoman with A&M’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The students are researchers in the Department of Soil Crop Sciences, which is part of the agriculture college.

Chris Meyer, director of the university’s Environmental Health & Safety Department, said it was unclear what the students were doing in the lab, but they were using a mixture of four chemicals — chloroform, phenol, alcohol and sulfuric acid — that were kept in a waste container. The chemicals in the container were to be disposed of at a later date, Meyer said.

The container fell and broke, spilling the chemicals, he said.

“I don’t know if it was knocked off a shelf or counter; there are many different scenarios,” he said, adding that he didn’t know the size of the container or the amount of chemicals spilled.

Meyer said a member of the Environmental Health & Safety Department heard the crash from nearby lab and responded immediately to assist the students in washing off the chemicals with an emergency shower.

Meyer said he called 911, and Environmental Health & Safety Department employees were sent in with protective clothing as a cautionary measure to clean up the mess.

The entire sixth floor was temporarily evacuated for a few hours while crews assisted the College Station Fire Department in the cleanup effort, Meyer said. The cleanup took about 2 1/2 hours, he said.

“The biggest thing was the water [from the shower], not the contamination in the lab,” he said. “The water spreads pretty far and tends to find a way to the floor below.”

Phillips said no other students were involved or around when the accident occurred.

“Not all labs on campus are student labs,” she said. “This was an actual research lab, so that’s good news.”

Meyer said the Environmental Health & Safety Department will conduct an investigation into the incident Thursday to see if it can determine what went wrong. This kind of accident usually happens at least once a semester, he said.

“There are so many labs on campus that these things can happen.” Meyer said. “I’m glad no one was hurt severely.”

• Melissa Sullivan’s e-mail address is msullivan@theeagle.com.


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