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Two-Alarm Fire Strikes Biological Laboratories

By Christopher J. Georges

A quickly contained two-alarm fire gutted the fifth floor of the Biological Laboratories early yesterday morning, but no hazardous chemical spills or fumes were released. Harvard health officials said.

The building, located at 16 Divinity Ave., houses several high-security labs containing radioactive substances.

While the experiments in several labs were completely destroyed, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages ruined equipment, there were no reports of injuries. Director of the Biological Laboratories James Ciotti said.

A faulty light fixture caused the blaze, Cambridge Fire Department officials said.

The fire, spotted at 8:18 a.m. by a custodial worker in a corner of the floor, drew several fire trucks to the scene.

University and state health officials immediately took air samples and determined that no hazard was apparent, and the water used to extinguish the fire was disposed of under proper procedures for hazardous wastes, said Gari T. Gatwood, safety engineer in the University Health Services, adding that "alcohol, wood, and some non-hazardous solutions were the only things that burned."

Damage

The lab, headed by Cabot Professor of Science Lawrence Bogorad, suffered the most damage in lost research data, amounting to as much as "a couple of years worth of work," he said.

"I don't mean to minimize the physical damage, but the loss of data of some graduate students was quite considerable," he added.

The lab deals primarily with molecular biology of plant genes Bogorad said.

Although there was low-level radioactive material in a nearby area a serious danger never developed, Ciotti said.

The University maintenance workers and health officials did "an outstanding job" in reacting quickly to the situation, Ciotti said, adding that they were responsible for efficiently preventing the situation from worsening, and prevented further problems from developing during the clean-up process

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