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150 students, staff evacuated from UMaine’s Hitchner Hall after chemical reaction releases gas

Posted Feb. 21, 2013, at 1:47 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 21, 2013, at 5:45 p.m.
Orono hazardous material crews responded to a &quotchlorine cloud" at Hitchner Hall at the University of Maine in Orono at 12:15 a.m. Thursday afternoon.
Orono hazardous material crews responded to a "chlorine cloud" at Hitchner Hall at the University of Maine in Orono at 12:15 a.m. Thursday afternoon. Buy Photo
Orono hazardous material crews carry a salvage drum into Hitchner Hall at the University of Maine in Orono after responding to a &quotchlorine cloud" at 12:15 a.m. Thursday afternoon.
Orono hazardous material crews carry a salvage drum into Hitchner Hall at the University of Maine in Orono after responding to a "chlorine cloud" at 12:15 a.m. Thursday afternoon. Buy Photo
Orono hazardous material crews carry a salvage drum into Hitchner Hall at the University of Maine in Orono after responding to a &quotchlorine cloud" at 12:15 a.m. Thursday afternoon.
Orono hazardous material crews carry a salvage drum into Hitchner Hall at the University of Maine in Orono after responding to a "chlorine cloud" at 12:15 a.m. Thursday afternoon. Buy Photo

ORONO, Maine — About 150 people inside Hitchner Hall at the University of Maine were evacuated late Thursday morning after a chemical reaction released chlorine gas in the building, according to university spokeswoman Margaret Nagle.

Four people were sent to Cutler Health Center on campus for observation, but none showed any obvious signs of injury or ill effects from the gas, Nagle said.

A lab manager on the third floor of Hitchner Hall was neutralizing chlorine tablets in a five-gallon bucket in preparation for disposal shortly before noon on Friday. Chlorine tablets are used in laboratories as a disinfectant.

The manager added sodium bisulfate and water to the mix, which “reacted and offed gas,” according to the spokeswoman.

“The lab manager put the lid on the bucket, pulled the fire alarm and called the University of Maine Police Department, which evacuated the building,” Nagle said.

The Orono-Old Town Hazardous Materials Team, one of four hazmat teams in the state, determined that the chemical reaction was contained in the bucket and there were no further chemical reactions or residuals in the building.

Emergency responders and university officials set up a command center in the Farm Store, a small building located behind Hitchner Hall that holds ice cream making equipment, according to UMaine’s website.

The bucket in which the reaction occurred was placed in another container and removed from Hitchner Hall for disposal.

Hitchner Hall reopened at 2:15 p.m. and classes scheduled after that time resumed as normal.

The facility is home to the animal and veterinary sciences; biochemistry, microbiology and molecular biology; and food science and human nutrition programs; as well as a DNA sequencing facility.

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