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Students Injured in Explosion

Graduate, Postdoc Hospitalized Following Chemical Incident

By Mike Hall

A graduate student and a post-doctoral student suffered minor injuries after a chemical accident on the third floor of Building 2 at 1:00 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.

Jane R. Brock G suffered localized acid burns and lacerations, and Mikhail V. Barybin received small lacerations. Both were treated at Massachusetts General Hospital and released late Wednesday afternoon.

Both Brock and Barybin are members of the Cummins Group, an inorganic chemistry research group led by Christopher C. Cummins Ph.D ’93. The explosion was “completely unexpected,” said Cummins.

Bottle explosion causes acid spill

According to Cummins, Brock was making up a preparation of hydrochloric acid and nitric acid right before the accident, an action described by Cummins as “a routine thing that would not lead to an explosion.” While Brock made the preparation, a glass bottle exploded in her vicinity, startling her and causing her to drop her container of acid. Brock then fell to the ground, landing with her leg in the spilled acid.

After her fall, nearby students quickly pulled her under a chemical shower, then called the Campus Police.

Barybin was hit by fragments from the exploding bottle, but was not exposed to the acid.

Campus Police were the first authorities to arrive on the scene. Captain David A. Carlson reported that officers on-scene treated Brock’s injuries, then pulled a fire alarm outside Room 2-310 to evacuate the building.

Members of the Emergency Response Group arrived shortly after the fire alarm and established an incident command post at the CP station outside of Building 2. The Cambridge Fire Department arrived minutes later and entered the evacuated building.

Assistant Safety Environmental Officer David M. Barber, who helped coordinate victim aid and cleanup, said that the response plan called for evacuating the building, covering all entrances to the affected areas, and looking for a safe route for transporting stretchers. Barber secured two freight elevators on the building’s ground floor, then helped escort the stretcher-bound students to waiting ambulances.

After aiding the students, MIT authorities began cleanup. “We were left with residual from ... water residue and waste products,” Barber said. Water from the safety showers activated to treat the victims had seeped into two laboratories and an office on the second floor. Clean Harbors, an outside sanitary contractor, was called in to perform the cleanup.

By 3:00 p.m., all of Building 2 except affected areas on the second and third floors were reopened. Clean Harbors completed its cleanup at 6:30 p.m., with all affected areas reopening soon afterwards.

Explosion investigation ongoing

In the aftermath of the accident, Cummins stated that his group wants “to determine ... the cause of this explosion so that it doesn’t happen again.” They plan to continue investigation of the events leading up to the explosion.

“These are experienced and trained chemists,” said Rick L. Danheiser, the associate head of the Department of Chemistry, dismissing early news reports of misconduct as inaccurate.

Barybin returned to work on Thursday with no ill effects. Brock will miss up to a week of work, pending further treatment and diagnosis of her burns.

MIT traditionally is strong in maintaining laboratory safety. In 1991, the American Chemical Society presented its first award for “Best University Safety Program” to the Department of Chemistry.