Tan Hall chemical accident resulted from experiment

An accident resulting from a chemical engineering experiment performed in Tan Hall last Monday morning sent one student to the hospital with moderate injuries.

The incident — which was originally reported to UCPD as a small chemical explosion — was reported at approximately 9:38 a.m. on Monday. The 23-year-old male student who sustained the injuries was soon transported to Highland General Hospital in Oakland for treatment. However, according to Michael Kumpf, director of the College of Chemistry’s Environment, Health, Safety and Security program, the reported incident was not a chemical explosion but rather a chemical overpressure in an experiment that was being performed by a chemical engineering research group.

“When you use the term explosion, that implies and technically means that you initiated some chemical, usually an explosive or an explosive gas … and that chemical actually burns, explodes, and causes usually some pretty significant collateral damage,” Kumpf said.

According to Kumpf, the chemical being used in the experiment needs to be kept at a very low temperature to keep it in a liquid state. But during the course of the experiment, the temperature approached the level at which the chemical turned into a gaseous form, which took up much more space and caused the glass container used in the experiment to rupture.

“When that sealed glass reactor sees that kind of overpressure, it can only contain it for a certain amount of time or a certain amount of pressure,” he said. “When the pressure gets too big, it can burst that glass reactor, and that’s what happened.”

According to Brandon DeFrancisci, associate director of training, emergency response and audit programs in the campus’s Office of Environment, Health and Safety, the injured student was released from Highland Hospital last Tuesday morning.

Kumpf said this is not the first time such an incident has occurred at UC Berkeley.
In roughly the last 50 times this experiment has been run over the course of this year, this was the first time such an accident occurred, he said.

“In a research environment, overpressures can happen,” he said. “It’s certainly not the first time in a research environment, not specifically this one, but in a research environment it can happen. So I wouldn’t say it’s terribly unique.”

Allie Bidwell is the news editor.