MIT Gives Charles River Volunteer Group $6,000 To Decontaminate Boat

MIT has donated $6,000 to the Charles River Cleanup Boat, the volunteer organization faced with bills for decontamination and boat repair after its volunteers picked up a chunk of sodium that caught fire and exploded.

The Institute made the donation “to express our ongoing commitment to their important efforts,” according to a statement from Pamela Dumas Serfes, executive director of the News Office. MIT has supported the cleanup boat since its inception, donating every year for the last four years, Dumas Serfes said.

On Sept. 6, a block of sodium was recovered by the volunteer crew working on the boat. The volunteers, who were working on the Boston side of the Charles River near Gloucester Street, placed the sodium in a trash container along with other wet debris. The sodium then caught fire and exploded, burning two volunteers and three paramedics who responded to the scene.

Tom McNichol, president of the Charles River Cleanup Boat, said that MIT’s donation would cover a $5,500 decontamination bill, some minor repairs to the boat, and some clothing that volunteers lost during the decontamination. The decontamination was requested by the Boston Fire Department and was performed by Triumvirate Environmental, according to the Cleanup Boat’s Web site.

The donation comes from money allocated to MIT’s Office of Community and Government Relations, according to Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75.

Clay said that he thought much consultation went into making the donation and “a lot of discussion about the sodium incident” took place. He emphasized that it is still unclear if MIT was responsible for the sodium, however. “We’ll have to wait for the investigation to complete.”

Local media have speculated that the sodium found on the bank of the Charles River is related to sodium drops, a tradition involving MIT students throwing blocks of reactive sodium metal into the Charles River for its violent reaction with water. While most students on campus associate the idea of a sodium drop with the annual drop run by East Campus, other groups, including the fraternity Tau Epsilon Phi, have been known to throw sodium into the Charles River.

McNichol said he hoped that sodium drops would end although he was not angry at MIT. “MIT has always supported us,” McNichol said. He would not disclose how much money MIT donated in the past.

“In fact, the first boat that reached us … was from the MIT [boating] pavilion with fire extinguishers,” McNichol said. “The MIT administration … they’re doing the right thing.”