Um… Excuse Me?

So I walk out of the building tonight on my way home to find that the intersection I have to walk through at College and Sixth is cordoned off, and surrounded by fire trucks and cops and campus safety and all kinds of other nervous looking guys. And a campus safety guy spots me and tells me that the intersection is closed, so I ask him how I can get around, and he gives me some basic directions. And then tells me that there’s been a toxic chemical spill, and that the hazmat folks have been called out, but that no one’s hurt, and they’re cleaning it up.

So I’m a bit curious about what the deal is, right, because I’m unavoidably thinking airborne toxic event, and so I do some trolling and come up with info from a student here, posted on a campus LJ community:

A student in one of the labs opened a refrigerator door only to have a bottle fall out and spill about 200mL of liquid on the floor. The substance that was spilled is beta-mercaptoethanol (BME). Hazard info can be found here. BME interferes with disulfide bonds and so denatures most proteins. That means that if you splash some on your skin, inhale the vapors, or get either liquid or vapor in your eyes, it can cause severe irritation. This is probably the reason the student was taken to the hospital – to monitor them for respiratory distress.

BME is NOT a carcinogen. It’s easily airborne and is a sulfur compound, so it stinks like none other. The evacuation of the science building complexes is due to airborne contamination – although the BME spill occurred in Seaver South, the fumes quickly spread as far as the second floor of Seaver North, and could easily drift across the street to Millikan and SACS.

Pomona has called in its contracted HazMat team to clean up the spill. They hope to have the buildings open by tomorrow morning, and perhaps as early as midnight tonight.

And. Um. Excuse me? Because, yeah, Millikan and SACS are right there across College Avenue from Seaver South, sure. But, hello — Crookshank Hall? Us with the books and the papers? Across the other street from Seaver? The narrower street? We don’t rate evacuation?

I knew there was a vast gulf between the sciences and the humanities, but I had no idea that chemical fumes were incapable of wafting across.


  1. Heh… my pal in geology took refuge in my office. Apparently they had been breathing it in for half an hour before they got evacuated. Apparently BME isn’t all that dangerous.

  2. Okay, good. I’m all for not all that dangerous. But if some official somewhere decided it was a good idea to evacuate SACS, for god’s sake, mightn’t they have thought, gee, Crookshank’s a whole helluva lot closer? And with the many, many windows? That’s all I’m saying. Because, god forbid we should have another incident, but I’d at least like to be on the short list of folks who might be affected by the next cloud of god knows what floating out of the labs.

    (That’s a lotta god. Apparently, I’m concerned. But not concerned enough to avoid “mightn’t.”)

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