Chemical spill at Moncton university cleaned up

A chemical spill at the University of Moncton Thursday sent one person to hospital, forced the evacuation of two buildings and tied up traffic for several hours.

Chemical involved considered low risk

A chemist has identified the chemical spilled at the University of Moncton Thursday as dicyclopentadiene, which officials say is relatively stable and low risk. (Marc Genuist/CBC)

A chemical spill at the University of Moncton Thursday sent one person to hospital, forced the evacuation of two buildings and tied up traffic for several hours.

A graduate-level chemistry student was treated in hospital for exposure to fumes after one of the storage containers leaked shortly before noon, university officials said. The student was later released.

The chemical involved was dicyclopentadiene (DCPD), which is relatively stable and low risk, according to a chemist.

"It's a chemical that is used to enhance reactions in a chemical process," Fire Chief Eric Arsenault told CBC News.

"The chemistry professors that were with us and giving us advice seemed very pleased that this was the product involved."

DCPD is, however, highly flammable, said Arsenault. "So that's always a source of concern."

Two people were inside the science bunker, a small separate building on campus where large containers of volatile chemicals are stored for lab experiments, when an alarm was triggered, said Arsenault.

He was worried about a possible chain reaction and explosion among the "mishmash" of thousands of chemicals stored in the bunker, which is near the campus' heating plant.

A hazardous materials team from Saint John was called in to help.

They found a small amount of sticky residue, which they were able to clean up, Arsenault said.

"It appears that bottle was intact, but there was a break in it so the product leaked out. But it's a product that is very volatile, so the vent hood inside the bunker was operating all along so with air flow and all that, the product vaporized."

Crews remained on the scene for about seven hours.

Students were taking inventory

A hazardous materials unit from Saint John has been called in to help. (Marc Genuist/CBC)

University officials say it was a "minor spill."

Two students were taking inventory of the the chemicals stored in the bunker when the incident occurred, the head of chemistry, Abdel Aziz Nait Ajjou, told CBC News.

"What happened is we have one shelf that's not strong enough and one student, he tried to take one two-litre bottle from the shelf to another, he touched something and the bottle was broken."

A later statement, issued by university spokeswoman Nicole Cormier, said the student, who has worked as a summer student at the university for the past few years, "determined that a storage container was damaged and that an odour was escaping from it."

The student, who is trained in the moving and storing of chemical products, immediately evacuated the premises and alerted security, Cormier said.

There was a smell of chemicals in the air, so university officials set up a perimeter and called the fire department, according to protocol, said Robert Beaudoin, the university's director of security.

The student was walking and talking after the incident, said Beaudoin.

He was taken to hospital for exposure to fumes as a precaution and was kept for observation for a few hours before being released shortly before 4 p.m.

The bunker where the spill occurred is well-ventilated, Beaudoin added.

Fire crews secured the area and worked with chemists at the university to determine the type of chemical involved.

The chief said crews were being "very, very cautious" in their approach.

The neighbouring library and arts building were evacuated in case there were fumes from the chemical because the wind was blowing in that direction, Arsenault said.

Université Avenue was blocked to traffic between the Musée Acadien and the J.-Louis Lévesque Arena. People were still able to travel through the campus, however, by taking Antonine Maillet Avenue.