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.