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Agency to investigate chemistry explosion

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Posted: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 12:00 am

Almost two weeks after a chemical explosion injured a Texas Tech graduate student, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board announced it would conduct an investigation into the causes of the explosion.

Preston Brown, 29, still is in critical condition in the burn unit at University Medical Center as of press time Tuesday.

Cory Chandler, a Tech spokesman, said the Jan. 7 explosion occurred when a mixture of three chemicals exploded at about 4 p.m. in Room 218 of the Chemistry building.

Brown suffered severe injuries to his hands and face, Chandler said, although the injuries were not life threatening.

Don Holmstrom, the investigations supervisor from the CSB, said the board is just beginning the investigation and will examine evidence, conduct interviews and gather information from the university during its investigation.

One reason the board will be conducting an investigation, he said, is the CSB aims to address issues that are not regulated already.

Taylor Eighmy, the Tech vice president for research, said the university looks forward to cooperating with the CSB investigation and also is in the midst of an internal investigation.

'We believe that we have a very good system in place,' he said, 'but you can always learn from these types of situations.'

The internal investigation Tech is conducting is standard procedure, Eighmy said, although this type of situation is unprecedented.

Daniel Horowitz, the director of public affairs with the CSB, said the board does not place fault in its investigations but gives recommendations for standards it believes should be in place around the country.

In a news release, John Bresland, the chairman of the board, said the information gathered from this and other investigations will be used for a study on the subject.

'We see serious accidents in high school and university labs every year, including a tragic fatality a year ago at UCLA,' he said in the release. 'I believe it is time to begin examining these accidents to see if they can be prevented through the kind of rigorous safety management systems that we and others have advocated in industrial settings.'

Although the board does not have evidence suggesting these types of accidents are on the rise, Holmstrom said another reason for the investigation is to gather information about whether a trend exists.

'We'll be looking at the frequency and number of accidents that occur in university labs,' he said.

The board does not issue fines or any type of sanction, Holmstrom said, but it will keep the public informed about its activities and key findings, possibly hosting a public meeting.

The investigation could take up to a year, he said, and may result in a full report about the board's findings.

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