Published: April 21, 2016
The University is installing localized carbon monoxide detectors in all residence halls after an abnormal carbon monoxide level caused the evacuation of a first-year dormitory around 12 a.m. Monday.
University Police noticed an odor during routine rounds and contacted emergency services. While testing the Martin Hall residents’ CO levels, emergency medical technicians determined two students required further medical attention. They were treated and
released from a local hospital, according to a campus-wide email from Associate Vice President for Facilities Operations Jim Devers at 9:24 a.m. Monday.
Scranton Fire Department determined a malfunctioning water heater — which was removed —caused the abnormal CO level.
Pennsylvania’s Carbon Monoxide Alarm Standards Act of 2013 does not specify the requirements for residence halls on college campuses. Currently, only nine residence halls have CO detectors, including Blair, Cambria, Fayette, Gonzaga, Liva, McGowen, McKenna, Tioga and Wayne houses. Devers said The University was waiting for legislation to pass to install carbon monoxide detectors in all residence halls. Without legislation, The University does not know specific locations required for CO detectors like it does for fire alarms.
“Because of the situation that happened in Martin Hall, we took the initiative to be proactive and said, ‘let’s put localized alarms in here now, until we find out what’s going to happen with this bill,’” Devers said.
Localized CO alarms are being installed in mechanical and boiler rooms because of fossil-fuel use, laundry rooms because of gas dryers and common corridors because of the likelihood of more students hearing the alarm.
Devers explained that localized CO alarms would sound if abnormal levels were detected, and someone would have to pull the fire alarm, sending a signal to University Police and Scranton Fire Department. Fire alarms and smoke detectors automatically send a direct signal to emergency personnel.
After the evacuation, most of the 43 registered students in Martin Hall went to the second floor of The DeNaples Center, where they were instructed to contact friends for a place to stay during the night unless they wanted The University to provide a place for them. Director of Residence Life Brad Troy said a small group of students chose the latter option and stayed in unoccupied rooms in Driscoll Hall, another first-year building.
Some students were intrigued that an odor revealed the abnormal level of CO.
Assistant professor of organic chemistry, Nicholas Sizemore, Ph.D., said carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, poisonous
gas but suggested the possibility of “some other byproduct that was causing a smell.” Devers agreed, saying rather than people smelling CO itself, they would smell an odor containing the gas.
Two first-floor residents of Martin Hall said they noticed an odor months ago “coming from the old water heater,” which they thought was on the third floor.
“I hang out on third floor a lot,” first-year Matthew Criscione said. “And even then, if you were to smell, you would probably notice it.”
However, Devers said the water heater is on the lower level adjacent to the main boiler.
Criscione said third and second-floor residents filed complaints with Residence Life that were disregarded.
First-year Kieran Baguiwet questioned, “How long have we been inhaling all of this, and how long have they been writing it off for without any regard?”
Troy explained a possible cause for this smell.
“There is a natural sewer smell in that part of campus in the vicinity of Martin Hall, the Long Center (and) the Commons that comes and goes as the sewer system changes,” Troy said. “It’s not a cause for alarm and may be misinterpreted as being related to this incident.”
Devers explained that with less rain, the sewer smell is more prominent. He has worked at The University for more than 30 years and says the smell has “been going on for a long time.” During his tenure, Devers has never encountered a CO issue.
Assisted reporting by: Mohammed Truitt
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