By Jordan Reich
Article republished courtesy of currentsaucenews.com
Fournet Hall on Northwestern State University’s campus was closed Tuesday, Feb. 21 due to a chemical leak found inside one of the refrigerators that hold chemicals used for labs.
Dr. Francene Lemoine, director of the School of Biological and Physical Sciences and associate professor, said the leak was found the previous day around 6:30 p.m. There was no incident involved with the leak, and no one was harmed.
“We don’t know exactly when it happened… the policy initially is to notify our environmental safety officer, Tammie Pezant,” Lemoine said.
Pezant and Dr. Marcus Jones, vice president for University Affairs, then made the call to shut down the building Tuesday morning.
According to the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) on the chemical that leaked, trimethylsilane is highly flammable and can become explosive in combination with air.
“It was a matter of needing to get the proper safety precautions handled to ensure that it was cleaned up correctly,” Lemoine said. “In addition to being concerned about our students and the safety of our faculty and staff, we also don’t want somebody coming in and dumping this down a drain or anything that might endanger other people as well.”
While most classes in Fournet were reassigned to rooms in Bienvenue Hall, where the biological sciences are held, and Keyser Hall, some classes that specifically required the labs available in Fournet were cancelled. One class was relocated to Watson Library.
Glendalyn Boothe, a sophomore pre-med student, said her organic chemistry lab with Dr. Massimo Bezoari was cancelled.
“We were supposed to extract caffeine from tea leaves, which I was looking forward to,” Boothe said. “In the past, we’ve just moved on [from cancelled labs], but it really just depends on what Dr. Bezoari wants to do.”
Michael Sesvold, the hazmat coordinator for the parish, supervised the Natchitoches Fire Department on site to contain and properly dispose of the trimethylsilane.
“[The environmental team was] here to standby because of the nature of the chemical,” Sesvold said. “While it was small in contents, if it happened to have caught fire, we wanted to be right here to go ahead and put it out so the building wasn’t threatened.”
“A lot of protective action [was taken] to make sure we didn’t get anybody hurt or lose any property,” Sesvold said. “That’s what we did, and everything is smooth.”
When asked if spills or leaks had ever occurred like this before, Lemoine stated that, to her knowledge, they had not. She also said that the hazmat team has taken care of the leak and that Fournet will be back open as soon as possible.