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UH lab explosion seriously injures grad student, damages building


    Entrances to the Pacific Ocean Science and Technology building were barricaded at the University of Hawaii at Manoa today.


    Firefighters investigate an explosion in a basement laboratory at University of Hawaii at Manoa.

The University of Hawaii Pacific Ocean Science and Technology building will reopen tomorrow after a structural engineer deemed the building safe following an explosion in the basement laboratory that seriously injured a researcher Wednesday.

A 29-year-old visiting researcher suffered arm injuries and possible facial burns, and was hospitalized in serious condition.

Fire officials said the researcher was mixing gases when the explosion, possibly from a compressed gas cylinder, occurred.

The blast damaged walls and tables and dismantled ceiling tiles.

University officials canceled classes held in the building today and closed the structure to students, faculty and staff while officials conducted an assessment.

The researcher was alone in the lab, which is part of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute on the school’s flagship Manoa campus. Other students and security guards in the basement pulled her out of the lab and she was able to walk out of the building.

The lab focuses on renewable energy and degradable bioplastics.

The researcher was growing cells by feeding them a mixture of low-pressure hydrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen, said Brian Taylor, the dean of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology. The same process has been used almost daily and without incident since the project began in 2008, he said.

“Clearly something unexplained happened last night,” Taylor said.

Investigators are seeking a cause.

The blast blew out interior walls, damaged ceiling tiles and equipment, said Honolulu Fire Department Capt. David Jenkins.

The building was evacuated. Taylor said an engineer assessed the structural integrity of the building and found it to be sound. The university aims to reopen the building on Friday, though the lab where the explosion occurred will remain closed.

The institute has launched a comprehensive safety review of all their lab operations because of the explosion, Taylor said. The Manoa campus will work with national safety experts as they follow up, he said.

The researcher has worked at the lab for the past six months. She took the university’s general lab safety course and had training in the specific procedures used at the energy institute lab, said Roy Takekawa, the campus’ director of environmental health and safety.

UH spokesperson Dan Meisenzahl said few classes are held there since the building mainly consists of laboratories, research facilities and offices.

Meisenzahl said all UH laboratories are inspected annually and are up to federal standards.

The university’s Manoa campus will begin a week-long spring break holiday on Monday.

Meisenzahl said counseling services will be available at the student center or by calling 956-7927.


The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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