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Four Exposed to Poisonous Gas; Woman Hospitalized

July 14, 1986

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) _ A small amount of deadly hydrogen cyanide gas escaped in a University of Rochester laboratory, injuring four people, one seriously, authorities said.

A 34-year-old researcher, Wafaa Fawzy, was in guarded condition in an intensive care unit this morning as a result of Sunday afternoon’s accident, according to officials at Strong Memorial Hospital. Two graduate students and a security guard were treated and released.

Ms. Fawzy was mixing chemicals in a special protective chamber in the basement laboratory when a tapered fitting on a glass container apparently ruptured, allowing some hydrogen cyanide to escape, said Robert H. Wilson, the university’s chief of environmental health and safety.

A hundred milligrams of the chemical - equal in weight to two drops of water - is enough to kill a 100-pound person, said David G. Bush, chairman of the university’s chemical hazards information team.

The Rochester Fire Department’s hazardous materials team went to the scene after students tripped a fire alarm to evacuate the building. But Wilson said the gas was captured and dissipated by special laboratory ventilating equipment.

John Muenter, a professor of chemistry and head of the lab where Ms. Fawzy was working, said the gas was being used for an experiment to determine the shape and size of molecules and how they interact.

Ms. Fawzy, who was working alone, may have smelled the bitter almond odor associated with hydrogen cyanide and alerted students in adjacent laboratories, Wilson said.

After the accident, firefighters equipped with breathing apparatus tested for the chemical throughout the building, but found none, said Captain Gregory Hersh, head of the hazardous materials team.

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