Breaking budget: Costly repairs of chemistry lab at Henderson


Blanton Matthews

Damage of Henderson professors using science labs for the creation of meth.

It was two years ago this month, when professors Terry David Bateman and Bradley Rowland allegedly spilled benzyl chloride in the process of manufacturing methamphetamine in a laboratory on the third floor of Henderson State’s Donald W. Reynolds Science Center. What would follow was a national news circus that made HSU the setup to countless obvious joking references to the 2008-2013 television drama series “Breaking Bad”.
At time of writing, the dust has quite literally settled in the lab space of room 304, now cleaned of toxic chemicals and used as a storage room for old furniture. Where once was a fume hood there is a black garbage bag, puffing up whenever the air conditioner kicks on.
Ingo Schranz, a professor in the Chemistry department whose office is just next to the now gutted room 304, said to The Oracle that while the department is able to manage without for the time being, the emptying of that lab and another nearby room has put considerable strain on himself and his colleagues.
“In my opinion, this is a temporary solution,” said Schranz on Friday. “What we lack the most is a storeroom manager and hygiene officer. Preparing reagents, setting up weekly labs, cleaning lab spaces in addition to finding and ordering chemicals is consuming a lot of time that we could spend working with students.”
A story by Debra Hale-Shelton and Benjamin Hardy for the Arkansas Non-Profit News Network published in the Magnolia Reporter claims the cost to clean up and repair the room only to its current state was $149,917. Now, a university shackled by financial dire straits experiencing record low enrollment amidst a global pandemic and legal controversy faces the possibility that these labs may never be in use again due to the sheer cost to restore.
“I wish we could have resolved this issue without a chemical spill,” said Schranz.
Had evidence of dangerous drug synthesis been discovered upon previous searches earlier in 2019, prior to the actual spill of toxic material, the labs could still be in use today. Bateman faces trial later this month.
Dr. Martin Campbell, chair of the Chemistry department, was contacted and declined to comment.