Chemical spill at CSUF leads to Dan Black Hall evacuation

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First responders on scene at Dan Black Hall at Cal State Fullerton, following a chemical spill evacuation.
(Caitlin Bartusick / Daily Titan)

UPDATE: This story was updated on September 9, 2018 at 11:57 p.m. to update information regarding the alarm system and the status of the student who was sent to St. Jude Medical Center. 

A 24-year-old male student at Cal State Fullerton was sent to St. Jude Medical Center for evaluation Saturday after notifying University Police at around 1 p.m. about a chemical smell released from an experiment he had been working on in the Dan Black Hall building.

The student was immediately released with no reported injuries, said University Police Capt. Scot Willey.

First responders helped evacuate about 50 people from the building, including students, faculty and staff. Two of the professors who evacuated said they saw flashing lights, but heard no alarms. A work order was sent to Facilities Operation to look into possible issues concerning the alarm system.

“We were in the building for several minutes after the fire alarm went off because we thought they might just be testing the lights. There was no alarm sound, there was just the light,” said Danielle Zacherl, a biology professor, who said she and her students evacuated around 1:20 p.m. “Typically you would hear a sound with the fire alarm.”

Fire authority and chemistry professor Zhuangjie Li
(Caitlin Bartusick/ Daily Titan)

The alarms on campus are all handled by an outside company called Simplex, Willey said. The company tests all campus alarm systems once or twice a year and the alarms are managed by Facilities Operations.

“I was in there since 10:30 a.m. and I’d been working on my talk in my office,” said Zhuangjie Li, a chemistry professor in the building. He also said he was not aware of the evacuation because of not hearing an alarm. “Nothing happened, and I knew nothing until I walked out about two minutes ago.”

The student was in room 143 of the building conducting a weeklong experiment involving yeast and milk. After observing that the mixture had turned black, the student placed the experiment into an autoclave, said Kathy Schaefer, Fullerton fire marshall and division chief of administration.

An autoclave is a machine used to sterilize harmful bacteria using high temperatures and pressure.

“Once it was in the autoclave, he opened it up and smelled some chlorine and then evacuated right after that,” Schaefer said.

Exposure to a high concentration of chlorine gas can pose certain health risks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The student did not experience dizziness or shortness of breath on scene and could not remember if he shut the autoclave upon evacuating. A hazmat team proceeded to take samples from the incident’s location, Schaefer said.

One other individual was evaluated by responders on scene but signed a release form and was not transported to St. Jude Medical Center, Schaefer said.

Fire battalions and hazmat teams from Anaheim, Fullerton, Huntington Beach and Orange County Fire Authorities responded to the call. All of the county’s response teams get dispatched whenever there is an incident involving chemicals in Dan Black Hall because of the number of chemicals located within the building, Willey said.

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