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Black smoke covers Cambridge

On Wednesday afternoon, large plumes of black smoke billowed from the MIT Power Plant after a water feed pump stopped functioning at the plant. The smoke lasted for two hours.

MIT Power Plant Director Randall D. Preston said that the black smoke resulted from a failure in the oil atomization process. Atomization, the process of forcing oil into small droplets before it is burned, relies on high pressure steam, which is produced by water boilers. However, when the water feed pump failed at the plant on Wednesday, the boilers did not have enough water to produce the necessary steam to allow for atomization to take place.

As a result, the unatomized oil burned and released a thick black smoke into the air. Workers at the plant reacted quickly, fixing the water pump and stabilizing steam pressure to normal levels. The plant remained functional despite the incident.

The MIT Power Plant usually runs on gas, but began burning oil last Tuesday while its gas burning system underwent renovation.

According to Preston, burning oil is not ideal because it costs three times as much as burning gas.

The plant finished the improvements on Wednesday and is now back to burning gas.

—Rob McQueen