November 25, 2010 / 1:12 PM / 7 years ago

French chemistry prof fined for deadly lab blast

MULHOUSE, France (Reuters) - A professor at a chemistry college in eastern France was fined 8,000 euros and given a suspended jail sentence on Thursday for causing a lab explosion that killed a colleague and gravely injured a student.

The accident occurred in 2006 when professor Alain Louati went out for lunch and an open bottle of highly inflammable ethylene triggered an explosion that tore through his laboratory in the city of Mulhouse, near the German border.

The blast, which blew out windows and ceilings and blackened walls, killed a professor in a room above the lab and injured a high-school student in an adjacent room. The young woman suffered severe fractures to the head and body, was temporarily in a coma and was left handicapped.

A court in Mulhouse found Louati, 62, guilty of involuntary homicide and causing injury by negligence and gave him a suspended 18-month prison sentence.

At his trial in September, Louati was accused of using substandard rubber tubes and of leaving the flask of ethylene open. Louati denied responsibility for the blast, saying he had closed the bottle and someone must have entered the lab and reopened it.

Ethylene is a common industrial chemical with a wide range of uses, from anaesthetics and welding to fruit-ripening.

(Reporting by Patrick Genthon; Writing by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Tim Pearce)

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