MRI Machine Explodes At New Jersey Animal Hospital, Several Workers Injured

People and pets evacuated following an incident at Oradell Animal Hospital on March 6, 2015. (credit: Debby Hastings via Twitter)

Several construction workers were injured when an MRI machine they were disassembling in a New Jersey animal hospital exploded on Friday morning, authorities say.

None of the 60 or so animals in the Oradell Animal Hospital in Paramus, New Jersey, were hurt during the explosion, claims NBC New York.

Charlotte, a five-month old cat, was being spayed on an operating table when the explosion occurred, said her owner Cheryl Dearborn of Northvale, NJ.  To wrap Charlotte’s surgery up quickly, the veterinarians told Dearborn that they had to use staples instead of stitches.  The cat was fine, Dearborn said, according to NorthJersey.com

One of the workers was taken to the hospital in critical condition with lacerations and crushing-related injuries to his body; the two others had respiratory complaints and other, mostly minor injuries, police said.

After the explosion there was a small leak of helium, which is used as a cooling agent inside of the MRI machine.

MRI explosions are rare but can be deadly, said Wlad Sobol, Ph.D., a medical physicist and professor of radiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, according to NorthJersey.com.

Sobol, who has studied MRI explosions, said that there are two potential causes.

An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machine is a superconductive device, meaning it contains wire that can conduct electrical current without generating resistance, or heat, according to NorthJersey.com.

Superconductivity happens at extremely cold temperatures, made possible by bathing the wire in liquid helium.

If one of the magnets in the device is dropped or the helium runs out, superconductivity is lost, and the large amount of energy stored inside the magnet quickly encounters resistance and releases heat.  This can cause an explosion.

The other possible scenario is that the ventilation system for the liquid helium becomes clogged. “The pressure will build up and the magnet will explode,” Sobol said.

“The amount of energy stored in a magnet like that is not trivial,” Sobol said, adding that it is equivalent to several kilograms of TNT — “It’s like a bomb in its ability to destroy stuff.”

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