Lack of protective container caused U-Minn lab chemical spill

A University of Minnesota official is calling yesterday's chemical spill in one of the labs a simple mistake made in a rush.

Industrial hygienist Neil Carlson said a post-doctoral associate and an assistant professor -- not two students as previously reported -- were in a medicinal chemistry lab using pyridine as a reagent and a solvent to produce a compound.

The associate had to carry a four-liter bottle of the chemical -- which contained 2-3 liters at the time -- from the lab to an adjacent chemical storage room about five feet away. She held the bottle in one hand while she typed a code into the keypad at the room's entrance, and while trying to open the door she dropped the bottle.

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It's common to move such a liquid by hand, Carlson said. She was not required to wear protective clothing, but should have had the bottle in a secondary container to contain the liquid in case of a spill.

"It was a shortcut," Carlson said. "It can happen. Human nature took over."

Pyridine can be flammable, cause headaches, nausea, skin irritation as well as respiratory problems.

They went to Hennepin County Medical Center and were released yesterday at 10 p.m. They have reported no illness, Carlson said. Some of the floor tiles were damaged and will need to be replaced.

The university has not released the names of the associate or the professor.