Postdoctoral researcher Thea Ekins-Coward, 29, lost an arm and suffered other injuries in a lab explosion at the University of Hawaii (UH), Mānoa on March 16.
Queen’s Medical Center, where Ekins-Coward was initially hospitalized, declined to release any information about her condition as of C&EN press time.
Ekins-Coward was working for the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI), which is a research unit within UH. HNEI researcher Jian Yu operates the lab in which the explosion happened. Yu’s research program includes developing microbial processes for producing biofuels and bioplastics from renewable feedstocks.
At the time of the incident, Ekins-Coward was combining hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and oxygen gases from high-pressure cylinders into a lower pressure container, said Brian Taylor, dean of the School of Ocean & Earth Science & Technology, during a March 17 news conference. The mixture was to be used to feed bacteria. “Since 2008, when the project began, the process has been used almost daily and without incident,” Taylor said.
News media photos taken outside the lab show cracked windows, walls, and ceiling tiles, and a bent door.
Ekins-Coward had received general and lab-specific safety training, Environmental Health & Safety Office Director Roy Takekawa said at the news conference. The lab was last inspected in January and passed all requirements, Takekawa said.
The Hawaii Occupational Safety & Health Division is investigating the incident. “UH will also be bringing outside experts for its own investigation,” university spokesman Daniel Meisenzahl told C&EN. “Leadership has made a commitment to make sure everything is done thoroughly and correctly.”
Ekins-Coward is receiving workers’ compensation benefits, Meisenzahl added.
HNEI has initiated a comprehensive safety review of all its laboratory operations, Taylor said. The building was found to be structurally sound and reopened on March 18, although the damaged lab remains closed.