HazMat incident strikes UVM research facility

Two separate incidents at UVM resulted in building evacuations last Monday, according to fire officials in Burlington. One of the incidents was another hazardous materials accident, the other a fire alarm in a separate building. The hazardous materials episode occurred around 12:40 p.m. on Monday when, “a researcher in a lab on the fourth floor of the Health Science Research Facility was working under a fume hood and spilled a mixture containing phenol,” Director of University Communications Enrique Corredera said. The researcher had a lab coat on but, according to Burlington Fire Chief Mike O’Neil, the chemical splashed on his legs. The researcher then proceeded to leave the fourth floor lab and go to the first floor to a shower. “The problem with that is that the shower was not one of the ones that are used for emergency wash off, it had hot water in it, and it actually released the volatiles in the chemical which made it a little bit worse,” O’Neil said. According to Corredera, per laboratory protocol, a call to 911 was made during the time that the researcher at?tempted to rinse off the spill. UVM Chief of Police Gary Margolis said that in answering the call, “UVM Police responded and established a command post and unified command with the Burling?ton Fire Department. We proceeded to assist the BFD [Burlington Fire Department] with securing the area as they began evacuations.” O’Neil said that when the BFD arrived, evacuations were performed and, “we isolated the building and denied entry to anyone when we determined what the situation was.” Regardless of the severity of a situation such as this, O’Neil said that “the first thing to do is isolate the area and deny entry to anyone; that [procedure is] typically what we follow. “This way we know we’re not going to expose anybody further than the people that have already been exposed,” he said. UVM Police “proceeded to assist the BFD with securing the area as they began evacuations,” Margolis said. After the building was isolated, first responders did a search of the building based on the information that was given to the BFD in order to make sure there was nothing else of concern, O’Neil said. Knowing that the lab facility goes through six routine air changes an hour, after 45 minutes and roughly five air changes, the BFD allowed UVM Environmental Safety to enter the building, O’Neil said. The Environmental Safety team entered the building to clean up the spill and take air quality samples, Corredera said. “Once the detection equipment showed that there was no chemical in the area, we turned the building back over UVM, they finished the clean up and opened it,” O’Neil said. Corredera said the building was reopened at 2:20 p.m. The researcher who spilled phenol on himself and the technician who was in the lab were transported to the hospital for evaluation, according to Corredera. The fire department found that another staff person from the building and a UVM police officer were also in the area of the exposure, and so as a precaution these people were transported to the hospital to be evaluated for ill effects as well, O’Neil said. All four persons have been released from Fletcher Allen, Corredera said. With regards to prevention, O’Neil said that if the re?searcher hadn’t run through the building, the chemical would have been more contained and just that floor might have been able to be isolated. “There are emergency showers in those lab areas; they are plentiful on every floor. That’s why they’re there. That’s what they’re used for, to keep people to the closest area without contaminating the building,” O’Neil said. Police Chief Margolis said that, “From our perspective, shared with BFD, the situation was managed well by first responder agencies. We are pleased with the outcome.” “We do work very well together. In the event that we have something that is not as routine as this, I think everybody will be well served by the emergency procedures that we have set forward,” O’Neil said.