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Cause of Building 13 Gas Leak is Unclear

By Marie Y. Thibault

The Cambridge Fire Department responded to the scene of a silane gas leak in Building 13 Friday afternoon. The building was evacuated for several hours as a result of the leak.

According to Michael F. Rubner PhD ’86, director of the Center for Materials Science and Engineering, the leak was in Professor Eugene A. Fitzgerald’s laboratory in Building 13, room 13-5137. The silane gas, which can combust in air, did not cause any injuries or damages, though it did lead to sparks, an MIT News Office press release stated.

A graduate student working in the laboratory pulled the fire alarm because, according to Rubner, “the very small leak of silane only produced a tiny flame that could not possibly set off the alarm.”

The laboratory where the leak occurred was examined by officials from Cambridge, the press release reported, and MIT’s Environment, Health and Safety Office was then put in charge of lab clean-up. The cause is currently under investigation, Rubner said.

Contrary to what was reported in the press release, the leak was not the first in the laboratory’s history. Another silane gas leak in Building 13 occurred in November 1999, also in Fitzgerald’s laboratory in 13-5137, according to a 1999 press release. In both cases, students working in the area pulled the fire alarm before evacuating the building.

While the leak was not the first in the laboratory’s history, no toxic gas has ever been detected in the laboratory, Rubner said, because in both cases, the leaks were too small to be detected by monitors.