Article and Photos by Najib Aminy
As a celebration of the new fall term, students with chemistry classes were rewarded extra time off when an ammonia leak was discovered in the Chemistry Tower around 11 a.m. Numerous fire departments responded to the scene, cordoning off John S. Toll Drive leaving a barrage of rotating lights and curious students. After pre-cautionary measures the Chemistry Tower was re-opened at 2:45 PM.
According to Interim Chief of Police Doug Little, a Stony Brook faculty member detected an ammonia leak and the building was immediately evacuated. Because the Chemistry Tower has its own safety measures, including a safety warden system, the 800 to 900 people inside the tower were evacuated in a record time of five to six minutes, said Little. The safety warden system trains staff members in emergency management and provides staff members with radios in case of such an event. Safety wardens assist fire marshals and personal in an evacuation measure.
The leak was detected on the fifth floor from a cylinder with a faulty valve. Though the leak was passing by slowly, Stony Brook University’s Environmental Health Services acted promptly with a Hazmat team that suited up and quarantined the area. According to Little, the Hazmat team took the leaking cylinder to the seventh floor where the contents were isolated and excluded from the Chemistry Tower’s ventilation system. Though the ammonia reached high levels, the Chemistry Tower was later re-opened at around 2:45 pm and scheduled classes were still in effect after levels reduced to a habitable status.
When asked why Stony Brook University’s text message response system was not utilized, Director of Emergency Management Robert Lenahan said that, because the area was quarantined and the Chemistry Tower was evacuated, such actions were not necessary. “The text message system is enforced only when there is an imminent threat to safety,” said Lenahan.
It was also reported that a faculty member’s cat was left in the evacuated building. While Little confirmed that the cat was believed to be on the seventh floor he did not have details regarding the status of the cat. Lenahan did not provide the whereabouts to the cat but confirmed that the cat was safe and was not in jeopardy.
According to Little, the SBU EHS’ primary concern was the safety of the student-body, then filtrating the ammonia out to habitable levels. No injuries have been reported and both Little and Lenahan commend the response teams as well as the response by neighboring fire departments.
According to the New York State Department of Health, at room temperature, ammonia is a colorless, highly irritating pungent gas with a suffocating odor. Ammonia is a gas that is an irritant to one’s lungs and in extreme exposure can cause burning to one’s skin.
“These things happen and it is good to know that the Emergency Management is experienced in responding and handling the situation,” said Lenahan.