Small Explosion Causes Big Stir at University Lab

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It wasn't really a science experiment gone wrong. But it did create a sort of chemical stir Sunday.

A 34-year-old chemistry major at Cal State Fullerton was the center of attention after she inadvertently triggered a small explosion that brought more than 40 firefighters and created a minor media circus.

Angela Mejia, who said she expects to graduate in May, was in one of the classrooms at the university's science center about 9:40 a.m. when she began the preparations necessary for a project. She cleaned out a beaker that contained a small amount of alcohol and dumped it into a gallon tub containing acid waste.

Bad move.

It started as a hissing sound and increasingly grew louder. Mejia, who had brought her 15-year-old daughter, Brianne Key, along for company, realized that something had gone awry. As they backed away, there was a bang. The reaction between the two chemicals created an explosion that shattered beakers and caused a cabinet to fling open.

"Glass flew all over the place," said Mejia, who added that she was embarrassed by the commotion. Fortunately, the only injury was a cut on a finger that she covered with a small Band-Aid.

Given the lack of injuries, the Tustin woman said the response was "overkill" as she gazed at the scene, cordoned off with yellow tape, and watched the firefighters from the hazardous materials team suiting up to go inside the building to check the air quality.

Fullerton Fire Chief Stephen P. Magliocco said four agencies from surrounding cities, 10 firetrucks and the university's police and hazardous materials team participated in the mostly precautionary efforts.

"I always believe you can never have enough resources on the scene," he said. Their main concern, he said, was other chemicals present in the room that could have been affected by the explosion.

"Our responsibility is to make sure we don't have any problems . . . and that it doesn't extend into other areas."

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