2007 sodium drop lawsuit against TEPs is dismissed, probably settled

The Tau Epsilon Phi sodium drop case, a civil suit filed by two river clean-up volunteers against two MIT graduate students and a former undergraduate, has been dismissed.

The court received notice of a settlement this past May, and therefore acted to close the case after 60 days. The case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning the plaintiffs could sue again for the same cause.

In September of 2007, Thomas Soisson and Katherine Nardin, volunteers for Charles River Cleanup Boat (a non-profit organization that removes floating debris from the Charles River), suffered chemical and thermal burns after a piece of sodium they retrieved from the Charles exploded. Three paramedics sent to treat them also received chemical burns.

After it became increasingly clear that the East Campus sodium drop was not the source of the sodium, the focus of the investigation shifted to another sodium drop held by Tau Epsilon Phi, an MIT fraternity, several days before this block of sodium was found.

A “sodium drop” involves students throwing a large block of highly reactive sodium metal into the Charles River. When the sodium contacts the water, a chemical reaction between the elemental sodium and the water creates sodium hydroxide and releases hydrogen gas, which lights on fire — it’s like fireworks for your fish.

In April of 2008, Bhaskar Mookerji G confessed to having dropped sodium into the Charles River a few days before the volunteers were injured. Mookerji completed 40 hours of community service and paid about $5000, closing the criminal case.

A civil case was subsequently filed against Mookerji, Brian Neltner G, and Matthew T. Peddie ’09, all brothers of TEP.

Perhaps the most well-known sodium drop is that generally held by East Campus during dormitory rush; however, Tau Epsilon Phi has also dropped sodium and potassium into the Charles during its rush events.

Lawyers for Mookerji, Neltner, Peddie, TEP, and Amrco LLC did not respond to emails sent Tuesday night regarding the settlement.