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Chemical spill prompts Physics Building evacuation

Fire trucks and police squad cars rattled the USF Tampa campus Wednesday morning after a chemical spill in the basement of the Physics Building prompted an evacuation.

Authorities reported that a glass canister containing carbon tetrachloride was being moved for storage when it fell, spilling on a postgraduate student who is also a USF employee.

At approximately 11:30 a.m., University Police (UP) received a call of a chemical spill. Both Tampa Fire Rescue (TFR) and UP responded.

“The fire alarm was sounded to evacuate people from the building,” said Bill Wade, captain of TFR. “There were approximately 100 people.”

The unidentified student was treated for skin exposure and five others were treated for inhalation at the scene. None were transported to a hospital.

TFR firefighters were sent in to gauge the severity of the spill.

USF students did not seem worried. Many asked why the building was closed and walked away.

“It’s not that serious,” said Mikhail Ladanov, a graduate student in physics. “You just have to put an absorbent on it.”

Ladanov was in a nearby building when the spill occurred.

“It’s a spill- accidental,” he said. “It happens all the time. It’s not as dangerous as (other chemicals).”

The Material Safety Data Sheet, a guide to handling chemicals used by workers and personnel, states that carbon tetrachloride is, “a clear, colorless, insoluble liquid that may be fatal if inhaled, absorbed through the skin or swallowed. It causes eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation.”

Randy Larsen, a USF chemistry professor, said it all depends on the concentration of the chemical at the time of contact.

“It really depends on the level of the spill,” he said. “The general rule is, you want to evacuate the area even if the spill is small.”

Carbon tetrachloride has been banned from U.S. consumer products since the 1970s, when its negative health effects were discovered.

“In the past, it was used as a solvent for cleaning things -even the Air Force used it as a degreaser,” Larsen said. “But because of the toxicity problem, it has been replaced by other solvents.”

Although not widely used, the chemical is still found in some labs.

“We don’t use (products with carbon tetrachloride) at teaching labs,” Larsen said. “(The chemicals) are still used as solvents.”

Wade said the spilled chemical was a waste product being stored in the basement of the Physics Building until USF established a plan to properly dispose of it.

The building was reopened at 3:30 p.m., according to UP spokeswoman Lt. Meg Ross.