Glass embedded in student's chest, abdomen in lab explosion
Published: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 4:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 4:27 p.m.
A University of Florida laboratory explosion last week caused chemical burns on a graduate student's face and lips, the skin to be torn from his fingertips, and glass to become embedded in his chest and abdomen, according to a police report released Wednesday.
Graduate student Khanh Ha, 27, was conducting research on cyclic peptides in the Sisler Hall laboratory of chemistry professor Alan Katritzky when the Jan. 11 accident happened. Ha told UF police that he was doing an experiment with sodium azide, a shock-sensitive compound, and an acid before the explosion.
He told police that he added water to the experiment just before the explosion, according to the report. Chemistry department chairman Daniel Talham said typically the mixture wouldn't be explosive when the chemicals are handled property, so an investigation into the incident is expected to add information on the cause.
"We don't really know what happened in this case," he said.
Sodium azide is known to be explosive when heated to high temperatures or when it comes in contact with certain metals, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Mixing the compound with strong acids produces hydrazoic acid, which also is explosive.
Sodium azide also was involved in an October explosion in Katritzky's laboratory that injured another graduate student. Following last week's explosion, work in the lab involving chemicals was suspended pending results of an investigation into the incident.
UF police responding to the explosion found Ha had several deep cuts to his right hand, two fingers that were bluish in color and "two other finger tips, from the first knuckle up, (that) were hanging by the skin." Katrinzky said Monday that Ha has been released from the hospital and is recovering, but Katritsky declined further comment on the incident.
Katritzky directs UF's Center for Heterocyclic Componds and the Katritzky Group. Talham said the group underwent a previous review of safety procedures following October's incident.
"His group is actually a model for putting safety procedures in place," Talham said.
Gainesville Fire Rescue firefighter Andrew Marsh, 25, was treated for chemical burns to his face and eyes.
A contractor on Monday removed the remnants of the sodium azide from the lab before the facility was reopened, although work with chemicals there remained suspended. Talham said he hopes a review of the incident could be completed and any new procedures be implemented in a matter of weeks.
"It's our hope to undergo a review and put procedures in place sooner rather than later," he said.
Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more stories on the University of Florida, visit www.thecampussun.com.
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