A chemical spill occurred Tuesday, Oct. 23 in a science lab on Florida A&M University’s campus. No injuries were reported and no hazardous threats were posed. The building had to be evacuated and cleared as a safety precaution.
The threat was quickly neutralized and students are back working in the lab.
The Environmental Safety Team, Tallahassee Police Department and Fire Department were called to make sure the building would be safe to enter again.
The spill occurred around noon in the Humphries Science Research Building while Bereket Mochona, an associate professor of organic chemistry, was conducting a chemical inventory check in one of his labs. Mochona noticed water was leaking in the refrigerator specifically catered to holding the chemicals.
“Usually I prepare the chemicals for students before they do their experiments,” Mochona said. “I noticed the refrigerator was having a malfunction and when I opened the refrigerator, water was leaking. One of my graduate students was in the lab and I told her to go to the library until I was finished cleaning it up.”
When Mochona began to take the chemicals out of the refrigerator to clean the spill, one of the containers spilled along the sink when he placed it on the counter.
The containers were filled with benzyl chloride, a colorless, reactive liquid and organochlorine compound commonly used as a chemical building block.
“At the time I tried to neutralize it with a chemical spill kit. But the fumes became stronger and that’s when I had to call Environmental Safety,” Mochona said.
The fire alarm was pulled and people were told to leave through the emergency exit doors inside classrooms and labs.
Jonathan Swan, safety officer for the Humphries Science Research Building library, said there are specific safety measures that have to be taken when an incident like this occurs.
“Depending where you are, you’re supposed to exit the building,” said Swan. “You’re not supposed to enter the hallway. There could be a fire—there could be chemicals. You have to use the exit door that goes outside. And you’re not supposed to use the elevators at all.”
All of the entrances were blocked off by FAMU Police Officers and caution tape. Students were unable to enter their classes at the time.
Tuana Cupidon, a freshman criminal justice student, described walking up to the building and seeing her professor and peers standing around outside. She was there for class, but no one was allowed to enter the building.
“I saw my professor outside and when I walked up,” she said. “I guess the fire alarm went off. Everyone had to come out of the building and they weren’t letting anyone in. So that’s when the fire department came,” said .
“At first, I didn’t know what it was,” Cupidon later added, “but then the fire department confirmed that there was a chemical spill. It wasn’t anything to be afraid over because [I] wasn’t in the building.”
The building was cleared and safe to enter again around 3:30 that afternoon.
Mochona said his students would be working on an anti-cancer experiment the next day.