Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Sign up for our twice-weekly newsletter!

WEB UPDATE: Small chemical reaction triggers huge police and fire response at Samson

Posted Thursday, Jan. 19, 6:15 p.m.
Updated Friday, Jan. 20, 10:20 a.m.

A small explosion resulting in no injuries sent ambulances, fire trucks and hazardous materials vehicles swarming to the intersection of 21st and H streets at about 5:50 p.m. Thursday. University officials initially termed the explosion a “very small, adverse chemical reaction.”

John Petrie, GW assistant vice president of public safety and emergency management, said a reaction occurred when small amounts nitric acid and ammonium isothiocyanate were inadvertently mixed in a Samson Hall lab. Samson Hall straddles the corner of 21st and H streets, and is directly across the School of Media and Public Affairs building. According to the St. Jude Children’s Hospital Web site, nitric acid is a “toxic, corrosive, colorless liquid used to make fertilizers, dyes, explosives and other chemicals.” Thiocyanate is a compound consisting of carbon and sulfur.

Two people were in the lab when the incident occurred, fire department spokesman Alan Etter said. They noticed immediately what had happened and left the room. The small explosion yielded fumes, but not a lot of damage was done to the building, Etter said.

In a statement released following the explosion, GW spokesman Matt Lindsay said that students had heard a “pop” after mixing the agents and a “yellowish vapor” rose from the beaker.

On Thursday night, hazardous materials crews were going through the building floor to floor to ensure the safety of the building. No other buildings were evacuated.

In an e-mail sent Friday, GW Director of Media Relations Tracy Schario said building was ventilated with fans through the night, and there was an air quality test conducted at 7 a.m. Friday morning to confirm there were no noxious fumes. Both Samson and Corcoran halls reopened Friday.

The people in the lab at the time of the explosion were mixing chemicals that would be used in a future forensics class to evaluate shoe prints, Schario said Thursday.

Dozens of students who had been evacuated from the building stood near the SMPA because the intersection of 21st and H streets was blocked off in several directions.

A University Police officer pulled a fire alarm in the building, and D.C. firefighters responded to the situation quickly, Petrie said. He said D.C. officials did not need any support from GW, though UPD officers were directing passersby away from the scene.

More to Discover
Donate to The GW Hatchet