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UPDATE: WVU clears Engineering Research Building after chemical accident

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va.—

Affected chemical materials were removed from the Engineering Research Building Tuesday (Oct. 22) and normal operations resumed Thursday (Oct. 23) in the building. Students, faculty and staff in the ERB were sent home for the day (Tuesday, Oct. 22) as a precaution after a chemical accident inside one of the laboratories.

ADDITIONAL DETAILS:

West Virginia University officials first learned of the accident in Room 309 at the Engineering Research Building at about 4 p.m. on Monday (Oct. 21). A post-doctoral student was conducting an assigned experiment involving government-funded research dealing with natural gas. The student researcher left the room, and upon returning discovered there had been a small explosion, resulting in only minor damage. This initiated a response and investigation by the University’s Environmental Health and Safety team, which secured the lab and then began investigating what had caused the explosion. At first, the team believed the explosion had occurred because the chemicals had been over-pressurized. However, when the investigation resumed on Tuesday morning (Oct. 22), the student realized a mistake had been made in the selection of chemicals used, and the reaction resulted in the creation of a small amount – likely less than 20 milligrams – of shock-sensitive explosive.

Subsequent research led the University’s Environmental Health & Safety officials to conclude that the even smaller amount of explosive remaining needed to be carefully removed, and, out of an abundance of caution, they came to the decision to evacuate the building of about 50 individuals. Note that the adjacent parking lot was cleared to give State Police and others a location to stage removal equipment, not out of concern that an explosion would affect that area. WVU was advised that even if the chemicals had exploded, any damage would have been contained within Room 309. The removal was completed and an all-clear given about 8 p.m. Tuesday. 

An investigation by University Police, with assistance from local, state and federal officials, found there was no intent, but was the result of an accident. At no time was this viewed as anything more than a mistake during a pre-planned experiment. 

No disciplinary action is expected.

ORIGINAL STORY:

West Virginia University students, faculty and staff in the Engineering Research Building on the Evansdale Campus are being sent home for the day (Tuesday, Oct. 22) as a precaution after a chemical accident inside one of the laboratories. 

Permit holders in Area 40 also need to vacate that parking area by moving their vehicles to another lot. Area 40 permit holders also may go home for the day. 

There are no injuries. No other buildings or facilities are affected. University Environmental, Health & Safety representatives are on-site, as well as University Police and Facilities personnel. 

Additional resources are also en route from the West Virginia State Police, Morgantown Fire and Police Departments, as well as the Fire Marshal’s Office to assist with removing some materials from the building out of an abundance of caution. 

The University anticipates the building and students, faculty and staff will report as usual tomorrow (Wednesday, Oct. 23) morning.

Follow @WVUAlert and WVU Safety and Wellness on Facebook for the latest information.


-WVU-

ak/10/22/19

CONTACT: John A. Bolt, University Relations/Communications
304.293.5520; JABolt@mail.wvu.edu

Call 1.855.WVU.NEWS for the latest news from the WVUToday.

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For more information on news and events in the West Virginia University Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, contact our Marketing and Communications office:

Email: EngineeringWV@mail.wvu.edu
Phone: 304-293-4135

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