Students hospitalized after chemical spill

Firefighters evacuated the Phillips Wangensteen Building after a spill in a seventh-floor lab.
  • James Nord
September 30, 2010

Minneapolis firefighters cordoned off a roughly two-block stretch of Harvard Street Southeast following a chemical spill just before 6 p.m. at the Phillips Wangensteen Building.

Two students spilled between two and four liters of the hazardous chemical pyridine in a seventh-floor lab in the building, Minneapolis Fire Department Battalion Chief Mike Carswell said.

At least eight fire trucks and a HAZMAT crew responded.

The chemical spilled in the lab’s doorway, contaminating the hallway and making it more difficult to contain, said Neil Carlson, a University of Minnesota Department of Environmental Health and Safety Industrial Hygienist at the scene.

“We were concerned because the spill wasn’t confined to the laboratory,” he said, calling it a “moderate spill.”

Firefighters evacuated the sixth, seventh and eighth floors of the building. The two students involved in the spill were brought outside and hosed down before they were taken to a hospital, which Carswell believed to be Hennepin County Medical Center.

The two students, one male and one female, did not report any immediate injuries, Carswell said, but symptoms related to the chemical exposure could be delayed.

Pyridine, a chemical solvent, is flammable and could be very dangerous depending on exposure. “It’s bad stuff,” Carswell said.

Although it’s unlikely the two students will experience long-term health effects after being washed off, the potential is still there, said Rachel Brand, an American Association of Poison Control Centers  representative.

Firefighters warned of danger if the chemical were inhaled and ushered crowds away from the area saying, “It’s that serious.”

Access to streets around Centennial Hall  and University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview was restricted for at least two hours.

A graduate student who works in the lab and witnessed the spill said the emergency response was excessive, adding that during business hours, the University DEHS would handle it.

After evacuating the rest of the building, a clean-up crew will be called, Carswell said. The building is expected to reopen

Thursday morning.

The University issued two text message alerts, including one urging students to “stay away from the blocks surrounding on [sic.] Washington from Union to Harvard down to East River Parkway over to Union.”


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