McAllister chemical spill causes evacuation

Avery Boulware, Campus Carrier Editor-in-Chief

Allie Pritchett | VIKING FUSION 
The Rome Fire Department and the Special Operations Responsive Team arrived behind McAllister on Wednesday morning to clean a hazardous chemical spill.

On Wednesday morning, the Rome fire department surrounded the McAllister building after receiving a call about a hazardous chemical spill. The building was closed from around 9 a.m. to around 10:40 a.m., and classes resumed at noon. 

According to chemistry lab supervisor Thomas Shipman, the spill occurred in a chemical storage closet. A student worker, whose name has not been released, was on a ladder reaching for another chemical when he accidentally knocked over a container of isobutyl chloroformate, which is hazardous to inhale. The student checked the nature of the chemical and immediately informed Shipman, his boss. 

Shipman then informed Gary Breton, Dean of Mathematics and Natural Science, who ordered that the building be evacuated.

“We have a policy about inhalation hazards: we don’t try to clean the spill up because we don’t have the proper equipment,” Shipman said. “When I talked to the dean, our initial plan was to isolate the area, which we did.” 

The closet had its own exhaust vent, which means it was already partially isolated, which is why the fire alarm wasn’t pulled immediately, but the building was evacuated. The fire department decided it wise to pull the fire alarm once they arrived. 

Shipman said that evacuating was the top priority before calling for help. 

“From there, the Berry police responded, and then it was out of our hands,” he said. “The firemen came in with their self-contained breathing apparatus, cleaned up the spill and closed out that area for the rest of the day. We aren’t supposed to go in until tomorrow.”

Shipman went with the student worker who spilled the chemical to the hospital as a precautionary measure. Poison Control instructed the student to be kept under medical supervision until 3:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, when they tested him for symptoms and deemed him safe to leave. 

“They don’t want to do this quickly,” Shipman said. “They don’t want to have delayed effects. It’s all precaution, that’s all it is.”

Gary Will, Assistant Vice President of Campus Safety, said that the fire department was complimentary of how Berry handled the situation, especially since the building was already empty by the time first responders arrived. 

“That’s why you evacuate a building,” Will said. “We aren’t sure exactly what that chemical is, and out of an abundance of caution, that’s why (you evacuate).”

The chemistry department also presented the fire department with a detailed description of the chemical that was spilled before they entered the building with hazmat suits. 

“That’s standard protocol, to have inventory and a detailed description of each chemical that is used,” Will said. “(The firemen) want to know what they are dealing with.”

According to Breton, only about 100 milliliters of the chemical was spilled. The compound is hazardous in that it will slowly react to water to release hydrochloric acid. Shipman said, surprisingly, the proper way to safely clean up this chemical is to pour sand on it, seal it up and dispose of it. 

Will said that campus safety had just received training on chemical spills in November. 

“The fire department showed up, Shipman was there, campus safety was there…we had this very discussion,” Will said. “It worked out well because some of the same hazmat firemen that were in that meeting showed up today. Whether it was good luck or bad luck, I’m not sure.”

Will said that this should be a lesson for students to take fire alarms seriously. 

“I know they are inconvenient,” he said. “I know they are typically at three in the morning. But when that fire alarm goes off, there is a reason for it, and you need to get out.”

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