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Lab Safety

Fire that started from ‘a routine post-experiment wash-up’ closes building for a year

University of St. Andrews biomedical sciences building suffered extensive water damage from fire fighting efforts

by Dalmeet Singh Chawla
February 19, 2019

Photo of a burned lab.
Credit: University of St. Andrews
Water used to fight the fire in some University of St. Andrews biomedical sciences labs led to damage throughout the building.

The University of St. Andrews says its biomedical sciences building may be unusable for a year or longer, after a fire broke out in the building on Feb. 10.

The flames were confined to a small section of the building, but thousands of gallons of water used to extinguish the fire caused significant damage, according to an incident description released by the institution on Feb. 15. No staff or students were injured.

The fire started on the third floor of the building after “a routine post-experiment wash-up went wrong,” the university says in its statement. A university spokesperson declined to comment further on the exact cause of the incident.

At the time of the fire, manufacturers of laboratory freezers, which typically store biological material at -80 °C, warned the university that they had 20 hours from loss of power before materials would start to degrade due to rising temperatures. Teams of researchers, university staff, and firefighters “recovered the vast majority of BMS refrigerated storage capacity, and with it the careers and the research critical to so many strands of microbiological and biomedical understanding,” the university says.

Around 100 researchers —chemists, virologists, microbiologists, and others— work in the affected building. It remains unclear where the institution will house these researchers while the building is repaired. “Options are being explored urgently to allow researchers to get back to fully equipped benches, with everything they require to continue their work, as soon as possible,” the university says.


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