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Physics Building chemical spill turns out to be false alarm

Classes and labs were suspended Wednesday after a strong odor mistaken for a chemical spill prompted University Police to evacuate the Physics Building for about eight hours.

A professor and UP officer set off an alarm in the building at 7:17 a.m., fearful that they smelled fluorine — a toxic chemical and irritant that causes physical harm if inhaled or touched.

When dispatched to the building, however, Tampa Fire Rescue (TFR) could not find the odor’s source.

TFR ultimately decided that the odor likely came from cleaning solvents that were not vented properly overnight, resulting in the concentration of odor.

“It turns out that it was probably not a dangerous chemical,” said University spokesman Michael Hoad.

USF’s MoBull emergency text-messaging system warned students at 8:04 a.m. of the possible spill and told them to avoid the Physics Building until the area was cleared.

By 4 p.m., the building reopened and classes resumed.

Hoad said the University sticks by its decision to send out the MoBull alert and cancel classes, saying it is better not to have put students, faculty or staff at risk.

At least 45,000 students received the message.