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Lab Spill Does Little Damage

By Jeremy Hylton
Editor in Chief

It looked like Blown Away had returned for another day of filming on Friday, but the emergency vehicles and firefighters that filled the courtyard between Buildings 6 and 18 were not here to film a movie.

The firefighters and a hazardous materials response unit were called after an accident occurred in a chemistry laboratory on the third floor of Building 6. Although there was little real danger, 10 emergency vehicles were parked in Eastman Court for most of the afternoon.

Because the chemicals involved in the accident could not be identified immediately, a Cambridge hazardous materials crew handled the clean up.

The accident was caused by a small container of waste chemicals in a laboratory used by Provost Mark S. Wrighton's research group. The container burst and knocked over a second bottle shortly before noon on Friday, according to John M. Fresina, director of the safety office.

The laboratory was empty, but people in a nearby office heard the bottles break, Fresina said. The witnesses called the safety office and pulled the fire alarm.

Because the laboratory was empty at the time of the accident, safety officers did not know which chemicals had spilled. "If you know what's in it, it's easy to deal with. When you don't know what it is, you have a problem --then you take all the precautions in the world," Fresina said.

The hazardous materials team entered the laboratory wearing protective gear that looked like space suits. "As it turned out it was very low hazard, but at first we didn't know which bottle had burst," Fresina said.

Once the chemicals were identified, the cleanup was routine, Fresina said. "Nobody hurt, no fire, really no damage," he said.

Though damage was minimal, the hazardous materials work was time consuming. The fire department remained on the scene until after 3 p.m.

Fresina said some cleanup was required in the laboratory, but the research group's safety officer was not available for comment.

The cost of the hazardous materials cleanup will be divided between the Institute and the city. "The law requires that the property owner assume the cost of the materials," said Raymond M. Diffley Jr., associate director of the property office. "The city will be sending us a bill."

The rest of the cost of the operation will be paid by the fire department, Diffley said. "The fire department is a public service," he said.