On Friday, Nov. 13 a Case Western Reserve University alert went out warning that vehicle traffic should avoid Adelbert Road, because the Cleveland Fire Department was responding to a chemical spill in Kent Hale Smith Building.
The alert was due to an unattended experiment gone awry in the Macromolecular and Engineering Department, which had caused a chemical explosion that led to a fume hood being damaged. The chemical explosion was thought to have released bromine gas because of the brown cloud in the room.
Within five minutes, a hazmat team was on scene to deal with this seemingly hazardous material, though they quickly discovered that they were not actually needed. What was originally thought to be bromine gas turned out to merely be a brown substance that had atomized upon explosion, turning into a brown cloud.
Initially four people were taken to the hospital that should not have entered the room but did anyway. These people were screened for any issues, given a precautionary shower and released.
“Had we known exactly what it was from the very beginning, hazmat wouldn’t have been called, and we could have been in there with sponges and paper towels cleaning up the mess,” said Marc Rubin, the senior director of Safety Services and chemical safety officer for CWRU.
Because the room was empty when the explosion happened, no one was injured. According to Rubin, even if someone would have been in front of the fume hood when the explosion happened, they would not have been injured, as the set-up was behind a shut fume hood with a blast shield.
The week before, on Thursday, Nov. 5, a lab technician in Millis Hall was taken to the hospital with minor injuries from an exploded flask. No hazardous chemicals were released when the flask exploded, and because the individual was wearing eye protection and a lab coat, no serious injuries were sustained.
“The biggest thing we had there was a little bit of blood because [they] had a couple cuts on [their] face,” said Rubin. “Just some blood on the floor.”
By the end of the day, the individual was back to work in Millis Hall.
Rubin has been working on campus for 23 years. While minor accidents such as broken bottles and the like are expected and happen relatively frequently, accidents as serious as these two are “extremely infrequent,” according to him. The fact that they happened within so short of a timespan is then even more strange.
“I can count ‘em on my hand,” he said.
Correction: The article has been changed to reflect that the first lab accident occurred Nov. 5.