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Small explosion forces evacuation of U. chemistry building

SALT LAKE CITY — The Henry Eyring Chemistry Building at the University of Utah was evacuated Thursday after an unplanned chemical reaction caused a small explosion.

Salt Lake fire spokesman Jasen Asay said that about 11 a.m., several chemicals that were stored inside a specialized cabinet with sheet metal doors on the first floor caused a small explosion.

"It blew one of the doors off the cabinet. And somebody in the office directly above the prep room stated they felt the explosion," Asay said.

No one was in the prep room area when the explosion occurred and no injuries were reported. The building, however, was full of students and professors in other classrooms and labs. All evacuated the building safely.

When hazardous materials crews arrived, they detected ammonia, chlorine, sulfur, sulfur dioxide, and traces of hydrochloric acid in the air, Asay said. Crews spent the afternoon using large fans to blow the hazardous gases out of the building, where another crew was set up to monitor the air as the gases dissipated.

An overhead sprinkler system quickly doused a small fire caused by the initial explosion. The heat from the chemical reaction melted part of the cabinet, Asay said.

Overall, he said, the safety measures that were in place did what they were designed to do.

"The cabinet did its job," he said. "It's proof that those safety measures work."

What caused the chemical reaction inside the cabinet and the subsequent explosion was still under investigation Thursday afternoon.


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