Boston College student hurt in chemistry explosion

Yesterday, the Boston Globe reported that a Boston College student was injured when a beaker exploded during a chemistry experiment this weekend, which reportedly left the student with cuts on her face and burns on her hands and forced the evacuation of Merkert Chemistry Center.

A spokesman for the police department said that the student had been working along in the chemistry lab when a small amount of thionyl chloride had a violent reaction, causing the beaker to burst.

The toxic chemical is commonly used in organic chemistry experiments and can be used to make mustard gas and nerve toxins, the Boston Globe reported.

The student was required to shower multiple times in a mobile decontamination unit brought to the scene by the Boston Fire Department. She was then taken to St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center to have her injuries treated, which officials say do not appear life-threatening.

After the accident the student placed a paper towel over the cuts on her cheek and drove home. Officials said that this complicated things because it required that crews decontaminate her car and her apartment as well as the chemistry lab.

According to the student’s professor, who was called to the scene for assistance, thionyl chloride can produce vapors that are dangerous to humans if inhaled and it reacts powerfully with moisture. The professor told crews to dilute the chemical heavily with water.

It was reported that the violent chemical reaction occurred without warning and for no apparent reason that the student, who has taken the required safety course, should have been aware of.

When accidents like this happen, people immediately turn to the school’s safety training and guidelines to determine if they are fit. Universities have the duty to provide students with a safe environment without unreasonable hazards. If schools breach this duty, they risk personal injury lawsuits if someone gets hurt.

Source: Boston Globe, “Student injured in Boston College chemical accident,” Ben Wolford and Vivian Yee, 6/25/2011.