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Fire breaks out in campus lab

Jill Bonnough

Clean-up efforts continued yesterday at the Newman-Wolfrom Laboratory after a chemical fire swept through two fourth floor laboratories Friday evening, resulting in extensive damage.

Rob Coleman, professor of mathematical and physical sciences, who supervises the laboratory, said official damage estimates and timetables for reopening are currently being assessed. Coleman said he was not in the building when the fire began, but collected detailed accounts from students and other researchers who were present on Friday.

“The costs from the damage come from destroyed chemicals, damaged equipment and the amount of renovation needed to the labs,” Coleman said. “Renovations to the two labs themselves will be the largest cost though.”

Coleman said he roughly estimates the damages to equipment to be about $25,000-$30,000.

The fire began around 7 p.m. as students were putting away equipment and preparing to leave the laboratories for the night, Coleman said.

“The accident happened when a shelf collapsed while containers (filled with the chemical hexane) were being loaded onto it,” Coleman said. “Since hexane is somewhat similar in form to lighter fluid, any sort of spark after the spill would have caused a fire. We still have to inspect the damage further, but we may decide to go around and weld all the shelves to the wall in the future.”

Pure hexane is commonly used in laboratories and its vapors can be explosive, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s Web site.

Coleman said the incident was accidental and although it continues to be investigated, no new precautionary measures should need to be implemented at the facility, which is primarily used for research into anti-cancer drug development and testing.

Firefighters had to knock out windows to ventilate the laboratories, said Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Doug Smith.

No students or researchers were injured in the fire, but Smith said two area firefighters sustained minor injuries. One firefighter needed to flush his eyes with fluids after coming in contact with some of the chemicals involved in the spill and another sought medical help for reasons unrelated to the fire.

“There was a bit of a miscommunication in earlier reports dealing with the reasons why (the firefighter) was taken into the hospital,” Smith said. “It had nothing to do with exposure to any chemicals, he actually was having back problems and didn’t have to stay in (the hospital) for long.”

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