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Chemical Spill near MIT Causes Scare


Thomas R. Karlo--The Tech
Firefighters wearing breathing masks stand ready with a firehose as others opened the rear gate of a truck containing leaking chemicals on Massachusetts Avenue yesterday evening.

By Frank Dabek
Associate News Editor

A chemical spill yesterday evening at around 5 p.m. on Massachusetts Avenue warranted a response by fire and hazardous materials teams and closed the street for several hours.

The truck spilled chemicals at 355 Massachusetts Ave., directly across from the Women's Independent Living Group, but no one was evacuated from the building. The truck was transporting chemicals to local businesses.

According to the Gerald Reardon, deputy chief of the Cambridge Fire Department, the spill was first reported by the driver of the truck who noticed a "pungent odor." The driver stopped the truck at University Park near the fire station at Main Street and Massachusetts Avenue and noticed a leak from a container labeled hazardous.

The driver was examined at the scene and did not appear to be injured, but was taken to a Cambridge hospital as a precaution.

The truck was carrying derivatives of ether, methanol, and acetonitrile, which are highly flammable, Reardon said. In addition, the chemicals are "absorbed through the skin and respiratory system and can have long term effects with large quantities," he said.

The chemicals are used in local laboratories and pharmaceutical companies. Officials did not release the name of the company to which the shipment was bound, but Reardon confirmed that MIT was not the recipient of the shipment.

Hazardous materials teams on the scene worked to contain the spill. The plan for disposal, according to Reardon, was to place the toxic materials in a drum with an absorbent substance, add more absorbent, and then seal the drum. "Once the drum is sealed we will have mitigated the problem," he said.

The incident will be investigated by fire officials, but no particular violations were evident and that the spill was being treated as an accident, Reardon said.

Traffic was completely blocked in both directions while the spill was being cleaned and a crowd of onlookers gathered to watch the cleanup effort.