Explosion at Hawaii laboratory leaves researcher seriously injured

A 29-year-old visiting researcher was taken to a hospital with serious injuries after an explosion at a University of Hawaii laboratory.

Honolulu Emergency Medical Services spokeswoman Shayne Enright said Thursday the woman suffered burns on her face and serious injuries to her arm. She was taken to The Queen’s Medical Center in serious condition after the explosion Wednesday evening.

No one else was hurt. The researcher was alone in the lab, which is part of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute on the school’s flagship Manoa campus. The lab focuses on renewable energy and degradable bioplastics.

The researcher was growing cells by feeding them a mixture of low-pressure hydrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen, said Brian Taylor, the dean of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology. The same process has been used almost daily and without incident since the project began in 2008, he said.

“Clearly something unexplained happened last night,” Taylor said.

Investigators are seeking a cause.

The blast blew out interior walls, damaged ceiling tiles and equipment, said Honolulu Fire Department Capt. David Jenkins.

The building was evacuated. Taylor said an engineer assessed the structural integrity of the building and found it to be sound. The university aims to reopen the building on Friday, though the lab where the explosion occurred will remain closed.

The institute has launched a comprehensive safety review of all their lab operations because of the explosion, Taylor said. The Manoa campus will work with national safety experts as they follow up, he said.

The researcher has worked at the lab for the past six months. She took the university’s general lab safety course and had training in the specific procedures used at the energy institute lab, said Roy Takekawa, the campus’ director of environmental health and safety.

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