U-Minn chemical spill under investigation

Authorities are still investigating yesterday's chemical spill at a University of Minnesota lab, which injured two students and closed off a couple of blocks along Harvard Street Southeast.

U spokesman Dan Wolter wrote in an e-mail, "There is nothing to suggest there was improper handling of materials at the current time. However, as with every incident, there will be an incident accident investigation to determine what occurred and corrections to be made, if necessary."

A U official called the spill in the Phillips Wangensteen Building "moderate-sized," and said the students were taken to an area hospital to be checked for inhalation of the chemical fumes. The chemical, pyridine, can be flammable, cause headaches, nausea, skin irritation as well as respiratory problems, he told the Pioneer Press.

The two students were hosed down before they were taken to a hospital, though they did not report any immediate injuries. Although it’s unlikely the two students will experience long-term health effects after being washed off, the potential is still there, Rachel Brand, an American Association of Poison Control Centers representative told the Minnesota Daily student paper.

At this point, we've got a few questions:

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1) Were the students researchers who were moving the chemicals as part of their work in the research project?

2) Were they just student workers who were doing grunt work and not involved in the project itself? (And did they really know what they were handling?)

3) Were they wearing protective gear? I haven't seen mention of it, but that hasn't been clarified.

Sure, these types of accidents happen. And it'll probably end up being small stuff. But I think a few of those background details might help clarify the matter.

Wolter wrote, "The post-incident investigation is actually done to answer these exact kinds of questions and get to the bottom of what happened. Keep in mind, the incident happened 15 hours ago and the initial focus is on ensuring people are safe and then environmental cleanup so the building could reopen. Now, it moves onto investigation."