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Lab Safety

Suspected Meth Lab Explodes At National Institute Of Standards & Technology

Congress: Safety of researchers is questioned in the wake of bizarre incident

by Cheryl Hogue
July 22, 2015

No researchers or scientific work was harmed in the explosion at the NIST campus in Gaithersburg, MD.
No researchers or scientific work was harmed in the explosion at the NIST campus in Gaithersburg, MD.

Congress is among the investigators probing a July 18 explosion of a suspected methamphetamine lab at the National Institute of Standards & Technology near Washington, D.C.

The explosion injured a NIST security officer, according to local police investigating the incident along with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. The security officer was treated for injuries and released from a local trauma center. He then resigned from NIST effective July 19, police say. They add that evidence recovered from the explosion is consistent with production of the illicit synthetic drug methamphetamine.

“The fact that this explosion took place at a taxpayer-funded NIST facility, potentially endangering NIST employees, is of great concern,” says Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the Science, Space & Technology Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. Smith is asking Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker to supply as much information as possible to his panel about the explosion before the end of July. NIST is part of the Commerce Department.

“I am troubled by the allegations that such dangerous and illicit activity went undetected at a federal research facility,” Smith says, adding that he wants to ensure that researchers at federal laboratories are safe.

No scientists or research efforts were hurt by the explosion at the Gaithersburg, Md., facility, NIST spokeswoman Gail Porter tells C&EN.

The incident took place in a small room in the campus’s special projects building, which is separate from the structures that house NIST’s extensive laboratories, Porter says. NIST scientists had recently finished a combustion experiment in the room. Their materials and supplies had been cleaned out of the space in preparation for the set-up of another project, Porter says.

Law enforcement agencies have made no arrests in the incident, and their investigation continues.



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Brian Kendall (July 23, 2015 4:47 PM)
"We must have asked them 50 times to fix the coffee machine. We did what we had to do."
Louis Wolf (July 24, 2015 1:17 AM)
How can the NIST explain this explosion and what kind experiment they were engaged in at the time?

Likewise, the official NIST explanation of precisely how Building 7 at Ground Zero in New York City collapsed in free-fall though it was not hit by any plane, and fully ten hours after the Twin Towers were struck by aircraft?
Robert Buntrock (July 29, 2015 3:30 PM)
Relevance of the last paragraph?
Anonymous (October 25, 2015 6:07 AM)
It's relevant cause NIST never seems to have a legitimate explanation for anything.
Rodrigo Dominguez (October 30, 2015 1:35 PM)
Right on - 9/11 a total inside job!
Shame on our government and those who continue to cover it up.
Shameful !
Mark (July 24, 2015 11:47 AM)
You would think that it being NIST they would have been able to more precisly control the reaction to avoid an explosion.
W. Bill Hiccup (July 25, 2015 6:18 AM)
Government employees on the job... any questions?
Cheryl Hogue (July 27, 2015 11:54 AM)
There is as yet no evidence that government scientists were on the job. It is still unclear whether the security officer was a contractor or a federal employee. More, no doubt, will be be revealed.
Paul Thiel (July 27, 2015 2:02 PM)
Has anyone reached Walter White for comment?
Gail (July 30, 2015 11:32 AM)
Has anyone reached Willie May for comment????
Gail (July 30, 2015 11:35 AM)
Typical of NIST; the "do no wrong" agency!!
Cheryl Hogue (August 20, 2015 3:04 PM)
C&EN continues to follow this story and will provide coverage of the Aug. 21, 2015, court appearance of the former officer who is charged in this incident. Stay tuned!
David. (October 5, 2015 9:38 AM)
So have any charges been filed on the security guard for not doing his job?
Cheryl Hogue (October 26, 2015 10:57 AM)
Yes, David. He's already been to trial but not yet sentenced. More here:
Cheryl Hogue (January 8, 2016 5:39 PM)
Christopher Bartley, the former NIST police officer who plead guilty to trying to make meth, was sentenced to 3-1/2 years in federal prison on Jan. 7. The judge did not buy Bartley's explanation that he was doing research so he could train other NIST officers.

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