An ammonia spill caused an emergency evacuation of the Frederick Humphries Science & Research Center early Wednesday afternoon.
Lt. Norman Rollins, of Florida A&M University’s police department, said the leak occurred when a member of the custodial staff was cleaning the basement floor of the building. Ammonia is a cleaning agent, Rollins said, and was being used around an area where the building’s air ducts are located. This caused the ammonia to leak into the vents.
“It pretty much was an accidental chemical spill of cleaning material,” Rollins said. “We alerted the Tallahassee fire department, which did an initial check of the building.”
Rollins’ account was corroborated by the incident report from the Tallahassee fire department.
However, Andrew Balogh, director of environmental health and safety at FAMU, gave another version of the incident.
“It appears someone had broken a bottle of ammonia in one of the labs and used a mop and bucket to clean it,” Balogh said. “They placed it in the mechanical room downstairs instead of placing it in a spill kit.”
Spill kits are used to properly dispose of lab chemicals, and all labs are equipped with them.
Balogh went on to say that he had initially thought the ammonia was being used to clean the mechanical room but was told otherwise by Ronald Barron, assistant director of plant operations and maintenance.
When contacted, Barron said he did not believe anyone from the billings department was involved.
“That was not the billing services department, it was someone that works in the building, probably one of the researchers,” he said.
Whatever the origin of the chemical, occupants of the building realized something was amiss after the smell from the ammonia began spreading though out the building.
“I was busy at my desk when something started irritating my nose, and it was coming through the vents,” said Sheriette C. Stokes IV, 29, a doctoral candidate of the environmental sciences institute. “We were able to smell it in the offices and the grad area.”
Stokes said that it was the first time anything of that magnitude had ever happened.
Hazel Taylor, coordinator of research programs and services at the institute, said she was on her way to her office when she smelled what she described as “something that smelled like dead fish.”
“The smell was concentrated and smelled like it was a mixture of ammonia and some other chemical,” Taylor said. “We called environmental health and safety because it was coming through the vents and dissipating.”
Taylor said others inside the building were alerted when the fire alarm was activated by an unknown person, who she thought probably felt the odor posed a serious threat and warranted further investigation.
Taylor said the campus police were first on location. And FAMU PD made the decision to call the Tallahassee fire department.
Tallahassee fire department officials later concluded that although the ammonia was irritating, it did not pose an imminent threat or danger to the occupants of the building.
Balogh said investigations are ongoing into the identity of the individual, who caused the spill.