Big response to small explosion in chemistry lab

Samson Hall reopened Friday morning after a small explosion resulting in no injuries sent ambulances, fire trucks and hazardous materials vehicles swarming to the building at about 5:50 p.m. Thursday. University officials initially termed the explosion a “very small, adverse chemical reaction.”

John Petrie, GW assistant vice president of Public Safety and Emergency Management, said a reaction occurred when small amounts of nitric acid and ammonium isothiocyanate were inadvertently mixed in a Samson Hall lab. Samson Hall straddles the corner of 21st and H streets, and is directly across from the School of Media and Public Affairs building. According to the St. Jude Children’s Hospital Web site, nitric acid is a “toxic, corrosive, colorless liquid used to make fertilizers, dyes, explosives and other chemicals.” Thiocyanate is a compound consisting of carbon and sulfur.

One person was in the lab when the incident occurred. The person noticed immediately what had happened and left the room. The small explosion yielded fumes, but not a lot of damage was done to the building, fire department spokesman Alan Etter said.

In a statement released following the explosion, GW spokesman Matt Lindsay said the student had heard a “pop” after mixing the agents and a “yellowish vapor” rose from the beaker.

On Thursday night, hazardous materials crews were going through the building floor to floor to ensure its safety. No other buildings were evacuated.

In an e-mail sent Friday, GW Director of Media Relations Tracy Schario said the building was ventilated with fans through the night, and there was an air quality test conducted at 7 a.m. Friday morning to confirm there were no noxious fumes. Both Samson and adjacent Corcoran Hall were open Friday.

The person in the lab at the time of the explosion was mixing chemicals that would be used in a future forensics class to evaluate shoe prints, Schario said Thursday.

A University Police officer pulled a fire alarm in the building, and D.C. firefighters responded to the situation quickly, Petrie said.

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