IGB spill caused minimal damage according to authorities

Very little in injuries and property damages was sustained in the aftermath of the hazardous materials spill at the Institute of Genomic Biology on May 28.

The incident was very minor, University spokeswoman Robin Kaler said, and cleanup of the spill was carried out through the night and completed by Tuesday. Safety departments’ response to the hazardous materials spill at the Institute of Genomic Biology has been considered a success, according to University officials.

A male lab member was opening a supply cabinet containing flammable solvents when a shelf bracket gave way, according to an email sent out by IGB director Gene Robinson to IGB faculty, staff and students. The lab member scraped his chin when the shelf fell and, at most, some acetone may have splashed on him in the course of the incident, Urbana Fire Chief Michael Dilley said. There was no evidence of negligence, Robinson wrote; the solvent cabinet was three years old but was rated to last for much longer.

“I suspect that he was reaching over the shelf, and then it fell. But it’s not something that should have happened, though,” said Peter Ashbrook, director of the Division of Research Safety. “It is a more likely scenario that it was an accident waiting to happen, and the lab researcher was there at the wrong time.”

The researcher was not admitted for medical treatment.

The hazardous materials call was made to the University Police Department at about 10 p.m. on Memorial Day, said University Lt. Todd Short. Because there was limited information beyond the call and the chemicals involved were unspecified, an Illini-Alert was sent out immediately at 10:30 p.m., calling for all persons in the surrounding area to evacuate and seek shelter.

“We are always on the side of getting the emergency notification out quick,” Short said. “We didn’t want to assume how big it was before sending out the campus alert because we don’t know where everybody is on campus.”

University Police set up a perimeter around the building and down a block of Gregory Drive, he added. University police were first to respond to the call, then Urbana firefighters followed quickly, dressed in self-contained suits.

Dilley said firefighters were at the scene for about two and a half hours, in which they adsorbed the flammable material that spilled. At that point, there was no imminent danger to any persons, even the firefighters who were stationed outside of the laboratory. An all-clear was issued around 2:15 a.m., after having tested the air conditions in the area. Following the fire department’s immediate removal of the solvent, the Division of Research Safety was brought in for a more thorough cleanup.

“It’s like spilling a gallon of milk and then picking it up with a paper towel,” Ashbrook said. “You want to move the refrigerator and pick up a mop, look under the cabinets to really clean up.”

The division hired an outside company to ensure thorough cleaning, which was done between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Tuesday. Research staff was allowed to return to the lab that afternoon.

Due to the nature of some of the chemicals, such as dichloromethane and acetone, which dissolve adhesive, considerable damage was done to the tiles. Ashbrook said these tiles were being fixed as soon as Wednesday.