McGill Covers Up Explosion and Fire in Weapons Lab University

McGill Covers Up Explosion and Fire in Weapons Lab
University withholds incident report for fire and smoke inhalation resulting from explosion in
MacDonald Engineering Building’s Shock Wave Physics Laboratory
10 April 2015
Students active with Demilitarize McGill, an ongoing campaign that intends to interrupt
McGill University’s history of complicity in war by ending military research at the institution,
have revealed that on May 31, 2013 a previously unreported explosion and fire occurred in the
basement lab facilities of the Shock Wave Physics Group (SWPG), injuring workers. Two
researchers suffered from smoke inhalation, and the uncontrolled explosion and fire damaged
property. The SWPG, located in the MacDonald Engineering Building, regularly conducts
experiments involving explosions in its lab complex located on a busy university campus.
On March 19, 2015, in response to an access-to-information request for incident reports
for the Macdonald Engineering Building between January 1, 2011, and present, the University
released no documents regarding the explosion and fire of May 31, 2013, and explicitly stated
that no documents were withheld under any provision of access-to-information law.
However, Demilitarize McGill is in possession of the Montreal Fire Department’s
Intervention Report1 which details the emergency calls made by McGill security reporting an
explosion at approximately 2:13pm and calling for the Fire Department. The report describes a
“small explosion fed by two recycled tires in a boiler room, no damage to the building but a lot
of smoke in the room [and] two researchers overcome by smoke inhalation”. In the damage
assessment included in the report, an estimated $5000 worth of damage was done, exclusively by
smoke, to the building.
--- We have made the Intervention Report available online aténéral-dIntervention.pdf. --The Minutes of Meeting No. 35 of the University Services Safety Committee from
Tuesday, June 4, 2013 indicate that “nobody was hurt”2 in the incident, contradicting the details
recorded within the Intervention Report cited above. The Minutes of Meeting No. 55 of the
University Laboratory Safety Committee from Thursday, June 6, 2013 also fail to mention the
two injured researchers. 3
Del Vecchio, Francine. Service De Securite Incendie De Montreal Rapport SSD0047R. Rapport General D'lntervention. 2
University Services Safety Committee Minutes of Meeting No. 35 Tuesday, June 4th, 2013 10:30 AM to 12:00 PM 3610 McTavish, 4th Floor, Room 430 Montreal, Quebec H3A 1Y2. Report. 3
McGill University Laboratory Safety Committee Minutes of Meeting No. 55 Thursday, June 6th, 2013, 10:30 -­‐ 12:00 Room 430, 3610 McTavish. Report. Demilitarize McGill has been working in conjunction with a campus union, the
Association of McGill University Research Employees (AMURE), which is deeply concerned by
McGill’s lack of transparency surrounding accidents in University labs and workplaces.
Repeatedly, the University has failed to be forthcoming with AMURE about incidents that are
potential violations of the health and safety of its research employees.
To date, the names and position titles of the two lab employees who suffered from smoke
inhalation as a result of the explosion in the explosion and fire are unbeknownst to Demilitarize
McGill or AMURE and so a course of action on their behalf is, as of yet, undetermined. A
grievance will however be filed by AMURE to address the University’s lack of cooperation in
providing reports and documents pertaining to this and other incidents more generally that do not
comply with appropriate health and safety standards.
In minutes acquired by AMURE of a meeting held by the University Services Safety
Committee on June 4, 20134, Michel Martel, the Operations Officer and Emergency Measures
and Fire Prevention Office reported that the explosion in room B30 Macdonald Engineering was
being investigated. “The seal on the drum did not hold and pressure wave blew the lab doors
open into the courtyard. Nobody was hurt and a car was slightly damaged.”
Minutes of a second meeting held by the University Laboratory Safety Committee on
June 6, 20135 include the following, as stated by Wayne Wood, Associate Director, University
Safety (EHS), “The O ring on a detonation chamber did not seal properly and the pressure
release from the explosion blew the doors open into the courtyard and damaged a nearby
car. The incident investigation included looking the preventive maintenance and inspection
frequency of the vessel. The company who maintains it will conduct a thorough investigation
and he or she will file a report on its safety.”
Despite Demilitarize McGill’s acquired knowledge pertaining to the explosion and fire of
May 31, 2013, as per the fire department's report, minutes from the Safety Services Committee
meeting of June 4, 2013, and minutes from the University Laboratory Safety Committee, McGill
maintains that no report of the incident exists. On Tuesday April 7, 2015, a Demilitarize McGill
representative delivered a demand letter to Mr. Stephen Strople, Secretary-General of McGill
University, seeking release of the withheld documents. Strople responded sustaining the
university’s claim that Environmental Health and Safety had no form pertaining to the incident
of May 31, 2013.
This is dubious, especially considering that Wayne Wood, the official who spoke chiefly
about the incident within the minutes from the University Laboratory Safety Committee meeting
on June 6, 2013, which was quoted above, is the Associate Director of University Safety at EHS
(which claims to have no report of the incident).
Individuals active with Demilitarize McGill take the University’s failure to comply with
the Act respecting Access to documents held by public bodies and the protection of personal
See 2. See 3. information seriously and intends to act accordingly, including but not limited to making a
complaint before the Commission d’accès à I’information.
Demilitarize McGill calls for transparency on the part of McGill University regarding the
May 31, 2013 incident as well as an end to all forms of support for colonial and imperialist wars,
including but not limited to research done by McGill’s Shock Wave Physics Group and other
labs and institutes on campus. Students and community members looking to engage in direct
action with the end of disrupting military research happening on campus should get in touch by
emailing [email protected]
For copies of any documents referred to other than the Intervention Report (linked to),
email [email protected]