Explosion at the University of Maryland

The explosion occurred in a fume hood in a chemistry teaching laboratory. Credit: Prince George's County Fire Department

On Monday, an explosion occurred during an organic chemistry lab at the University of Maryland (UMD). The local fire department responded, reportedly sending “16 pieces of fire, EMS and Haz-Mat units and about 70 personnel” to the scene. Two students received first- and second-degree chemical burns and were taken to an area burn unit.

UMD chemistry department chair Michael Doyle tells C&EN that:

The evidence that I saw with the fire marshall was consistent with waste material (strong acids) being inappropriately added to an organic reagent bottle and not to a waste container. I believe that the lesson learned is the need to segregate reagents for a lab from the reagents being used.

One of my colleagues notes that this is also a reason to be careful about reusing old reagent bottles as waste containers–current reagents and waste can be easily confused (although I don’t know if this was actually the situation at UMD).

The fire department’s blog has more photos, although the post differs from Doyle on the cause of the explosion.

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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  1. A suggestion to avoid this issue. In our Organic II lab, we have students perform a nitration of methyl benzoate. However, students obtain their sulfuric acid and their nitrating acid mixture from bottles equipped with an autodispenser! Therefore, we do not have students pouring these acids from a bottle. In addition, they never have an excess of these acids at the end of the experiment — therefore, no possibility of puring these reagents into a wrong bottle.


  1. ChemBark » Blog Archive » Explosion at U. Maryland: Another Nitric Acid Oopsie - [...] a nitric/sulfuric acid mixture into an (organic?) waste container. Jyllian Kemsley[1] of C&EN interviewed UMD chemistry department chairman Michael Doyle, who had…