Results from independent investigation into UH lab explosion delayed

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An independent investigation into the explosion at a University of Hawaii at Manoa laboratory may take a little longer than expected.

The investigation, which is being conducted by the University of California Center for Laboratory Safety, is now expected to be complete by mid to late May instead of the end of April.

According to UH, the center was unable to send materials involved in the explosion for testing until the Hawaii State Occupational Safety and Health Division (HIOSH), the government agency investigating the accident, completed its review of the accident scene. HIOSH released the materials and scene to UH late last week.

A postdoctoral researcher, identified as Thea Ekins-Coward, lost her arm in the explosion on March 16. She was working alone in a Hawaii Natural Energy Institute biofuels research laboratory in the UH Manoa Pacific Ocean Science and Technology building.

A Honolulu Fire Department investigation classified the incident as an accident that occurred in a portable gas cylinder.

HFD also says the equipment that contributed to the blast should not have been there in the first place, and a previous, smaller incident went unreported.

In its preliminary investigation, the UC Center for Laboratory Safety determined that the explosion was an isolated incident and not the result of a systemic problem, UH said.

Following the explosion, the university’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety reviewed and surveyed all of the 500-plus laboratories on campus to ensure similar experiments weren’t being conducted elsewhere.

It is in the process of creating a new chemical and physical safety committee that will have representatives from all of the schools and colleges that have research and teaching laboratories.

“We’ve also requested that (the UC Center for Laboratory Safety), that once again is a national leader when it comes to lab safety, also has suggestions for us as far as more protocols that we can put into place,” UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl previously said.

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