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Monday, September 27, 2021

UF sees increase in chemical accidents on campus this semester

On Oct. 11, an explosion in a chemistry lab sent a student to the hospital with cuts on his face, hands and forearms. On Monday, Turlington Hall was evacuated after a toxic chemical was spilled in the basement. On Wednesday, fire trucks pulled up in front of Leigh Hall, a chemistry lab building, as it was evacuated because someone pulled a fire alarm.

Major Brad Barber, spokesman for the University Police, said this frequency of incidents involving chemical accidents is unusual.

The last incident formally reported to UPD was on May 19.

Bill Properzio, director of UF's Department of Environmental Health and Safety, said that with about 3,000 labs on campus, accidents are bound to happen from time to time, but there are usually only a handful each year.

The department is responsible for ensuring all aspects of safety on campus, including the safety of laboratories.

Members of its lab-safety program inspect each lab annually to make sure facilities and equipment are up to safety codes and that lab managers are properly trained in safety procedures.

They are also responsible for following up after accidents like this month's explosion and chemical spill.

Lab policy recommends that students involved in an accident call 911. This call will notify UPD and Gainesville Fire Rescue who will secure the scene and take care of any life-threatening or safety issues.

The fire department's hazardous materials team will identify the chemicals involved in the accident and work to contain them, neutralizing acids and bases and stopping leaks, said Don Sessions, chief of special operations for fire rescue.

UPD then contacts the Environmental Health and Safety Department to further assess the scene and clean up the hazardous materials.

The safety office will investigate the incident and meet with those involved to see what went wrong.

"There are some accidents that are simply that - accidents," Properzio said. "But in most cases, there's something that could have been done a little better. Something that was preventable."

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Properzio said his office is not always contacted, as there is no mandatory reporting procedure for chemical accidents.

If there aren't any injuries, or if the people involved are able to clean up the chemicals themselves, the department does not get involved, he said.

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