45 Checked After Bad Acid Experiment at Villanova

Students fell ill while conducting a science experiment

The Chemistry Department at Villanova University is reviewing all protocols and procedures after an experiment sent nearly 30 people to the hospital on Tuesday – some with nose bleeds and many others who were having trouble breathing.

"One student fell ill, she was taken to the ladies room, they thought it was an asthma attack, then she started having nose bleeds" said Radnor Police Superintendent Bill Colarulo.

The culprit was a mixture of Propionic Acid and alcohol. The teacher who was overseeing the lab experiment then started to feel faint and while Hazmat crews were evacuating the Mendel Science Center, other students began having adverse reactions. The most common complaints were of dizziness, nausea, breathing problems and feeling light-headed.

“We got evacuated, nobody was really sure what was going on" said student Justin Wickersham. "We just thought it was a regular fire drill. But pretty soon, people started crowding around the area.”

In all, 45 people were checked out by EMS crews on campus. Several had to go throught decontamination tents set up by the science building.

Propionic acid “is a colorless, oily liquid with a strong, unpleasant odor.  It is used as a preservative, fungicide, and antimicrobial agent,” according to New Jersey’s Right to Know Hazardous Substance List.

Exposure can severely irritate and burn the skin and eyes with possible eye damage. And inhaling Propionic Acid can irritate a person’s nose, throat and lungs causing shortness of breath and other complications, according to the website.

Of the 45 folks checked out, no one was contaminated, according to Tedjeske. Radnor police said the experiment had been performed before, without incident.

The Mendel Science Center is open again today.

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