Explosion at University of Missouri-Columbia leaves four injured

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A pile of debris sits outside Schweitzer Hall as cleanup crews went through the building.
Workers began replacing the building's windows on Tuesday.

An explosion at the University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou) on Monday afternoon left four people injured, authorities say.

The explosion occurred in a science laboratory in Schweitzer Hall around 2:20 p.m. CDT (1920 UTC) Monday. The source of the explosion was first thought to have been a 2,000-pound (907.2-kilogramme) hydrogen tank, but fire officials later said that this was not the case. The cause of the incident is currently under investigation by the Columbia Fire Department.

The Columbia Fire Department arrived at Schweitzer Hall after a report of a structure fire, but found that most of the fire had already been extinguished by the building's fire sprinkler system. The remaining flames were put out by firefighters, one of whom said it looked as if "a bomb went off in the lab".

Of the four hurt in the blast, one was a research scientist, one a graduate student, and the other two postdoctoral fellows. Three were treated for mild injuries and released from University Hospital, while the fourth was in good condition after being taken to the hospital's burn unit for life-threatening injuries. A school spokesperson said that the university was not allowed to release the names of the victims.

Authorities initially believed that a large container of hydrogen gas had exploded, but investigators later said that the tank was intact. Fire officials also retracted an earlier statement that said the incident had been a result of human error. In a Monday night news release, the fire department said that lab workers had turned on the hydrogen but did not recognize warning signs indicating a dangerously high level of hydrogen gas in the lab, so they left the gas supply running. The report said the explosion occurred after the gas reached a source of ignition. However, the department said Tuesday that the investigation into the explosion is still ongoing and that they were not certain human error was the cause.

The investigation should determine the cost of repairs for the building, as well as whether the school should implement new procedures to avoid similar incidents in the future. The lab where the explosion took place will be totally rebuilt.

Schweitzer Hall houses Mizzou's biochemistry department, which is part of the medical and agricultural programs. The building's single classroom is located in the basement and was not in use at the time. The explosion happened on a third-story lab assigned to Judy Wall, a university professor, who was in her office across from the lab during the incident and referred inquiries to the news bureau. Other labs in the building were not disturbed, and Schweitzer Hall was established to be structurally sound, although nearly twenty windows had been shattered from the blast. The building reopened Tuesday for researchers to continue working.


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