Millennium Hall residents were asked to evacuate the building around 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 3 after a chemical leak from an air conditioner set off the fire detection system. Fire fighters responded and had the situation under control by 9 a.m.
The leak was isolated to an unoccupied room on the 11th floor of the building. The room is adjacent to the floor’s common area and kitchen, according to the executive director of Drexel’s Environmental Health and Safety Department, Jonathan Chase.
“It appears as though a piece of piping [connected to the cooling unit] ruptured and a chemical leaked out into the air in the form of a mist. The mist set off smoke detectors, the smoke detectors set off the fire alarm, the fire alarm [notifies] the Philadelphia Fire Department,” Chase said.
“The fire department notified their hazmat unit which then responded and tested all areas of the building for the refrigerant,” he continued.
The refrigerant that leaked is called R410A, a mixture that contains chemicals similar to Freon.
Freon, a moderately toxic but nonflammable chemical, is often times used in refrigerants and aerosol propellants and was released as a mist in the leak at Millennium. Toxicity to humans begins at over 11 percent concentration, resulting conditions such as dizziness, loss of concentration, central nervous system depression and even an irregular heartbeat. When inhaled, it tends not to remain within the human system because of exhalation.
“Because this very quickly volatizes, it quickly evaporated and was ventilated out of the building. There really wasn’t any detectable levels by the time the fire department got there,” Chase said.
The maintenance team fixed the cooling unit on-site. According to Chase, occupants were allowed back in the building when they were sure that is was safe for residents once again. Chase noted how reassuring the level of response was by first responders, including Drexel Public Safety and the Philadelphia Fire Department.
“It’s always good to see the way they help our students first,” Chase said.
The residence hall, which can be occupied by up to 480 students, had many fewer occupants due to summer quarter scheduling, as the normal residential freshmen were not attending school yet. According to Chase, the hall only had a few students who were involved in sports programs that the school offers. Students were allowed to return to by 9:40 a.m.