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Chemical reaction causes explosion in CSULB engineering lab

Fire injures professor and prompts the evacuation of two buildings.

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Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering Ted Yu is wheeled out on a stretcher after sustaining injuries during a fire. Two engineering buildings were evacuated Tuesday after a chemical reaction sparked a fire in the Engineering and Computer Sciences building.

Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering Ted Yu is wheeled out on a stretcher after sustaining injuries during a fire. Two engineering buildings were evacuated Tuesday after a chemical reaction sparked a fire in the Engineering and Computer Sciences building.

Daniel Green

Daniel Green

Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering Ted Yu is wheeled out on a stretcher after sustaining injuries during a fire. Two engineering buildings were evacuated Tuesday after a chemical reaction sparked a fire in the Engineering and Computer Sciences building.

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Two engineering buildings were evacuated at Cal State Long Beach Tuesday after a chemical explosion sparked a fire, injuring a professor.

The Long Beach Fire Department was dispatched at approximately 1:23 p.m. in response to the fire, which started in the Engineering and Computer Sciences Building in room 114.

According to Reza Toosi, professor of mechanical engineering, the cause of the fire involved a chemical reaction to lithium. He was teaching in the classroom directly above the lab when the explosion occurred.

“We thought it was an explosion, a bomb or something,” Toosi said. “Immediately we saw some kind of vapor coming from the air conditioner shaft. My students started coughing. Some said they felt like vomiting, so we left the building.

An alarm went off soon after the fire started, prompting students to evacuate the building. Ted Yu, assistant professor of chemical engineering, was carried out of the building on a gurney after sustaining injuries from the incident. Nicolas Amyx, a senior chemical engineering major, said Yu appeared to have gotten chemicals on his face.

“It was almost like the movies when there is an explosion, but there was white powder instead of the black powder [on his face],” Amyx said. “There was a really loud ‘bang’ that kind of shook you. We looked over and there was a white fire going on with some smoke coming out [of the room].”

The explosion occurred in Yu’s chemical engineering lab. T.J. Higgwe, a junior chemical engineering major, was in the room with Yu, who was working with a bucket of chemicals. According to Higgwe, Yu was disposing of chemicals that had been left unattended in the fume hood.

“We didn’t know what exactly it was,” Higgwe said. “What I think happened was Dr. Yu tried to find out what it was and something happened to activate it and it just went off.”

Higgwe said that he saw white sparks and red smoke followed by a explosion, causing the students to run from the room.

Before an alarm sounded, students caught wind of something out of the ordinary when a synthetic odor filled the air.

“We noticed the smell first and the bell went off,” said Ryan Cao, mechanical engineering senior. “It was some sort of pungent odor. Kind of like sulfur, but not as strong.”

The alarm was shut off by 2:11 p.m. The Engineering complex buildings were set to remain closed for the remainder of the day and are expected to reopen Wednesday.

Luke Ramirez, Lauren Martinez and Daniel Green contributed to this article.

2 Comments

2 Responses to “Chemical reaction causes explosion in CSULB engineering lab”

  1. Brian on February 28th, 2018 3:10 pm

    I hope Dr. Yu recovers soon.

    Question about the story: was he teaching in a classroom above the lab, or was he in the lab disposing of unattended chemicals in the fume hood?

  2. Miranda Andrade-Ceja on February 28th, 2018 10:56 pm

    Hi Brian,

    Dr. Yu was in the lab.

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