Chem spill creates a stir

Aidan M. Anderson

A chemical spill at the Philips-Wangensteen Building made for a few hours of excitement for a handful of University health care workers and patients Tuesday morning.

A combined 6 gallons of hexane, ethyl acetate and a small amount of ether spilled when their containers broke after the collapse of a shelf within a flammable-materials cabinet, said Greg Casura, a safety specialist from the Universityís environmental health and safety department.

No one was injured in the incident.

The spill occurred on the buildingís seventh floor, which houses the faculty dental clinic.

The Minneapolis Fire Department and University police responded to the call around 11 a.m., according to the Universityís police dispatch.

The fire department prompted building evacuation shortly after it arrived.

Carrie McShane, a continuing education student who works at one of the buildingís information desks, said an announcement was made around 11:15 a.m. to evacuate everyone from floors seven through 15 to the lower levels.

ìA lot of people didnít know what was going on, but everyone was pretty calm,” she said.

Most of the people went to the street-level lobby of the Phillips-Wangensteen building or neighboring Moos Tower, she said.

Workers were allowed to re-enter the upper floors after the environmental team established around 1 p.m. that the air concentration levels were safe.

The team kept the seventh floor closed for cleanup and ventilation until around 2:30 p.m.

Because the Minneapolis Fire Department usually gets to a scene faster than the Universityís hazmat team, the firefighters evacuate appropriate floors to ensure no one gets hurt, said Ulysis Seal, Minneapolis assistant fire chief.

The fire department has hazardous material-trained firefighters, but generally turns the operation over to a team like the Universityís when evacuations are complete, Seal said.

ìWe’ll go in and make sure the chemical isnít getting any further away from us and make sure there are no life hazards issues, then weíll back off and interface with the U of M hazmat folks,” Seal said.

The Universityís hazmat team trains with both Minneapolis and St. Paul fire departments specifically for situations like the spill, which makes the operation ìseamless,” Casura said.

Casura and Seal said they were pleased with the response.