A “routine” test of crude oil gone awry led to an explosion yesterday at the Cariri laboratory adjoining the University of the West Indies, St Augustine campus, injuring two technicians.
The Caribbean Industrial Research Unit (Cariri) was conducting a monthly test on a crude oil sample from BP Trinidad at the petroleum lab, around 11 a.m. yesterday, when the sample is said to have caught fire and exploded.
One younger technician suffered burns to the face and chest, while the other, a woman technician with more than 20 years’ experience at Cariri, received minor burns about the body.
The female technician was discharged in a satisfactory condition yesterday afternoon from the Burns Unit of Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex (EWMSC), but the younger technician was moved to a private facility for observation over the weekend.
The lab is now closed until further notice, said Irma Burkett of Cariri’s UWI corporate communications.
Parts of the rest of the building should be accessible while the Trinidad and Tobago Fire Service, Cariri and the Occupational Safety and Health Agency conduct investigations into the accident.
Cariri has had a long-standing relationship with the UWI and its St Augustine laboratory is located at the western end of the campus, adjacent to the Faculty of Engineering buildings.
The Express was told that the lab tests oil samples for energy companies like bpTT and for the State, with most samples coming every month from existing well-sites.
The samples are consistently tested for their make-up of gas and fuel, which plays a part in determining the price of the crude. Burkett said it is “baffling” that yesterday’s sample, which measured about 4,000 millilitres, caught fire and subsequently exploded.
The sample was at the time inside a “fume cupboard”, which contains fumes arising out of the heated samples and conducts any gases released into the atmosphere.
Burkett said Cariri will wait on the results of its own and other investigations before attempting to draw a conclusion.
“We have been doing this routinely for the past 40 years,” Burkett said.
In a media statement, UWI said campus principal Prof Clement Sankat has expressed his concern for those injured and hopes for their quick and complete recovery.
“He commended the efforts of the UWI St Augustine Campus Emergency Response Team (CERT) and the UWI Health Services Unit who were the first responders on the scene.”