Evacuation after chemical leak at university laboratory


A chemical leak broke out at the Physics’ Department Clarendon Laboratory last Wednesday evening, causing the building to be evacuated.

The laboratory in Parks Road was evacuated around 10pm after reports were made of a smell later identified as ammonia gas.

Two fire engines from Oxford City station, a specialist Hazardous Decontamination Unit and decontamination vehicle, and a crew of twelve firemen successfully contained the incident.

A spokesman for Oxford University stated that there were no injuries as a result of the incident, adding: “Students noticed the noxious smell and called the University’s security services who immediately evacuated the building and notified the fire service”.

“The fire service responded rapidly and ensured that any gas was quickly dispersed and the equipment was made safe.The building reopened as normal this morning”.

Crew manager Ben Bishop from Rewley Road fire station commented: “Accurate information was supplied to us quickly to enable us to establish a good cordon nice and early to prevent anyone from being affected.”

“We are well versed with the hazards posed by this type of incident and conduct regular visits to ensure our information and plans are kept up-to-date and practiced”.

On being asked about concerns about safety in the laboratory, one first year Physics student said that he is not worried about the implications of this incident: “These things are very rare, and the authorities have proper procedure to take care of it. They do check equipment regularly, so I’m really not that worried”.

The University Safety Office has published a set of safety rules for laboratories where there is a risk of chemical exposure. Rules are reviewed annually and are explained to laboratory personnel and students before they begin practical work.

Ammonia gas is produced in the human body and is commonly found in nature. It is also present in many cleaning products. In high exposures, the chemical can be very corrosive and damage cells in the body on contact.

The Clarendon Laboratory forms part of the institution’s Department of Physics. It further houses the Atomic and Laser physics, condensed matter physics and Biophysics groups within the Physics Department. The original laboratory building was completed in 1872, making it the oldest purpose-built physics laboratory in England. 

Photo: Bill Nicholls


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