Update on the Chemistry Laboratory Accident

The accident is being formally investigated by the Texas Tech Office of Environmental Health and Safety and outside experts.

Texas Tech University

At about 5:30 p.m. on Friday (Oct. 14), a small explosion occurred in Room 332 in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Building on the Texas Tech campus. The laboratory was unattended, no one was hurt, and the explosion occurred in a working laboratory hood. The building was evacuated. Lubbock Fire Department and its hazmat team responded and cleaned up the acid that sprayed onto the floor of the laboratory. The building was opened about two hours later.

The accident is being formally investigated by the Texas Tech Office of Environmental Health and Safety and outside experts. The laboratories associated with the work have been locked down to facilitate the investigation. The precise cause of the explosion is not known, but it appears to involve two large glass bottles, each reportedly containing dilute acids (one with nitric, one with acetic) that were adjacent to each other on the left side of the hood. There were two roto-evaporation apparatus on the right side of the hood that were not damaged, but the explosion did crack the base surface of the hood and scatter glass throughout the lab.

The laboratory was being used solely by employees of an organic chemical production company. This company has a contractual research relationship with a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The laboratory hood where the explosion occurred was being used for an organic compound crystallization, but it appears that this reaction had no role in the explosion. The Texas Tech investigation of the accident will be released upon its completion.

A serious explosion happened in another laboratory of the chemistry and biochemistry department on Jan. 7, 2010. A graduate student was seriously injured. As a consequence of that accident, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has conducted an investigation. It released its investigative report Wednesday (Oct. 19), to a national audience through a live webinar.

“Though the two separate accidents were not connected with respect to the nature of the research or individuals involved, they both occurred in the same department here at Texas Tech University within 20 months of each other,” said Taylor Eighmy, vice president for research at Texas Tech. “While progress has been made, this second accident just further reinforces the importance of changing the culture of laboratory safety at the university. We have a lot of work to still do.”

During the Oct. 19, 2011, webinar, the CSB discussed its findings, conclusions and recommendations to Texas Tech and other parties involved in the Jan. 7, 2010, accident. Texas Tech will launch its own website that describes many additional self-imposed recommendations and descriptions of progress that has been made since the 2010 accident. This website will be updated over the following months as progress is made. Further information about Oct. 14th, 2011 explosion will be posted there. The website is located at www.csbresponse.ttu.edu.