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Technician Sent To Hospital, U Of U Building Evacuated After Chemical Spill

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — The accidental spill of a potentially hazardous chemical sent a lab technician to the hospital and left the building on the University of Utah campus that houses the chemistry department evacuated for hours Tuesday evening.

Firefighters and hazmat technicians responded just after 6:00 to the Henry Eyring Building, 315 S. 1400 East, after the spill was reported.

“Someone in one of the labs had dropped a glass container which obviously broke on the ground,” said Capt. Tony Allred, hazardous materials response team captain for Salt Lake City Fire. “The glass container was identified to be containing boron trifluoride diethyl etherate.”

Allred said when mixed with water—even water present in the surrounding atmosphere—the chemical can become extremely toxic in small parts per million as hydrofluoric acid.

Graduate student Dallas Keyes, who was evacuated from another lab in the building, was aware of the potential danger the situation posed.

“You don’t want to inhale that stuff, so I don’t know if I could give it a number (out of 10), but it’s nasty stuff,” Keyes said.

Firefighters and hazmat teams took their time to contain and control the chemical, and then turned the building over to environmental health experts.

Fire officials later said the technician was taken to the hospital as a precaution and was expected to be okay after being observed for a few hours.

Keyes said the situation—which led to the building being roped off by yellow police tape—was “scary.”

“People really don’t understand that chemistry is real—like it’s not just stuff that people do on a piece of paper,” Keyes said. “It’s a good reminder that what we do is dangerous.”

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