Students, instructor injured in lab explosion at Memphis school

A student is taken to an ambulance.
A student is taken to an ambulance.

(WMC-TV) - A professor and three students were injured Wednesday in a chemistry lab explosion at Memphis' Southwest Tennessee Community College.

A news release from the school called the blast a "fiery mushroom" and blamed it on a mixture of phosphoric acid and 2-methylcyclohexanal. The blast happened in a classroom at the school's Union Avenue campus.

Memphis Fire Department spokesman Wayne Cooke said 12 people were in the class when the explosion occurred at about noon Wednesday.

At least two students suffered body burns, and the male professor had cuts to his face and torso. All the victims were in stable condition. Officials have not yet identified them by name.

"The instructor, who was a male instructor, sustained quite a bit of the injury as a result of this explosion," Cooke said.

After victims were carted into ambulances on gurneys, Southwest Tennessee Community College Vice President Karen Nippert spoke with Action News 5.

"Everything has been done to get the medical attention they need," said Nippert.

Witnesses said the instructor apparently stepped in after a student had trouble with an experiment. The instructor took the brunt of the blast.

"There were cuts from the container on his face and on his upper torso, so we did transport him," Cooke said.

Students reported hearing the explosion from all over the building. It was evacuated as a precaution.

"We all just had to get up and grab things and run out," Lauren Tucker said.

Other buildings were temporarily evacuated as well. Officials said things were getting back to normal several hours after the incident.

"We will review what happened, what measures can be taken," said Nippert.  "There are measures in place to prevent things of this nature."

The instructor suffered cuts from the glass container explosion and also inhaled chemicals.  The three students were treated and released on the scene.

Copyright 2011 WMC-TV. All rights reserved. The AP contributed to this story.