UPDATE: Four injured in hydrogen explosion at Schweitzer Hall

Monday, June 28, 2010 | 3:57 p.m. CDT; updated 10:52 p.m. CDT, Monday, June 28, 2010
A lab explosion blew out the windows of Schweitzer Hall on Monday afternoon. The explosion injured four people, one critically.

COLUMBIA — Phil Leibu was working in the basement of Schweitzer Hall when he heard a large explosion and saw debris falling on the ground through his window.

The Columbia Fire Department received a call of a possible structure fire at 2:20 p.m. on Monday after a 2,000 pound hydrogen tank exploded on the third floor of Schweitzer Hall, 503 S. College Ave., said Columbia Fire Department Capt. Eric Hartman.


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Four injured people who were in the building were taken to area hospitals, including one person in critical condition who was taken the University Hospital. The Columbia Fire Department has not released the names of the victims or if they were students or faculty.

The building was evacuated and Hartman said the fire was contained in about 10 minutes. Fire crews then began working to ventilate chemicals. Hartman said the fire alarm was triggered and the building's fire sprinklers were activated. 

Jeanie Phipps, an administrative assistant in Mumford Hall, said she heard a loud boom.

"I didn't really look. I thought it was something with a truck," she said because there is construction on campus.

She received an e-mail alert about the explosion and went outside to see what was going on. Several small groups of people were watching the scene while the fire department was investigating, she said.

There was significant damage to the building with glass and debris falling to the ground, Hartman said. All the windows on one corner of the building were broken. He said investigators were on the scene and at University Hospital interviewing a victim.

The explosion occurred in a lab used for experiments with bacteria and hydrogen. Hartman said he is unsure whether the hydrogen tank was being used at the time of the explosion. He said the department is taking precautions against any potentially hazardous chemicals.

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hank ottinger June 28, 2010 | 4:45 p.m.

Wouldn't a "2000-pound hydrogen tank" come close to leveling the whole building? Could someone check this out?

(Report Comment)
Jake Sherlock June 28, 2010 | 5:48 p.m.

Mr. Ottinger:

Your suspicions were dead on. This just in:

"According to Columbia Fire Department Capt. Eric Hartman, the explosion was caused by an anaerobic hood filled with hydrogen gas — an oxygen-free enclosure for working with bacteria that can't survive in oxygen. The explosion was not caused by a 2,000 pound hydrogen tank, as previously reported."

Latest update can be found here:

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 29, 2010 | 12:58 p.m.

Hydrogen gas represents a potential danger (explosive, flammable), but so do several other commercially-used agents.

At another UM System campus explosives are routinely handled and detonated, for instructional and research purposes. That's been occurring for nearly a century and a half.

(Report Comment)

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