On Tuesday morning, an outside contractor accidentally mixed chemicals while servicing the pool in the Swenson Gym, which caused a chemical reaction and a campus scare.
“(The contractor) had added chlorine to the pool chlorination system, which is a normal process,” according to a press release issued by the Ogden City Fire Department. “Upon completion, approximately one gallon of the chlorine was left over and was added to a 55-gallon drum. It was then determined that the 55-gallon drum contained approximately 30 gallons of sulfuric acid.”
The drum began to smoke, and two Weber State University employees loaded it into a truck and drove it to the Chiller Plant north of the W5 parking lot.
Richard Sandau, manager of Environmental Health & Safety at WSU, said at this point his office was contacted, and he went to inspect.
“Today we tried to go with the safest route we could, so at that point we got Ogden City involved because they’re the experts,” Sandau said. “I saw it smoking, and it seemed benign, but we wanted to take care of it as safely as we could.” At that point, his office contacted the Ogden hazmat crew.
Fire department personnel responded to the incident at 3001 University Circle at 11:03, according to the press release. A total of 21 personnel from the WSU Police Department, Ogden City Police Department, Ogden City Fire Department, Weber Fire District, Northview Fire Department and the Weber Morgan Health Department were on scene. Skyline Drive was closed for approximately one and a half hours during the incident.
“The chemical was isolated, contained, and a 300-foot perimeter was established around the vehicle that housed the product,” it stated. “No buildings required evacuation, and no citizens were displaced.”
LeBlanc said the hazmat crew initially thought chlorine had been dumped into a drum full of sulfuric acid, but weren’t sure what chemical had been mixed with the acid. The crew initially ruled out chlorine as the unknown chemical, saying that, by the time they arrived, the mixture of chlorine with sulfuric acid would have caused an explosion. They said they thought it was just water and that the fumes would disperse and calm down in about an hour.
“The fumes did calm down, but then they found out it was chlorine because, when they transported it into a dispenser, they saw a yellow/orange plume of smoke that indicated chlorine and acid that were mixed,” LeBlanc said. He said the chlorine might have been mixed with water, which is why there was no explosion.
The two employees who transported the drum to the plant were sent to Work Med since they inhaled the fumes, but they were not complaining of any symptoms when they left.
The police took down the perimeter at about 1 p.m.
Sandau said he believed this is a contractor WSU has worked with for a long time, and thus is not a rookie mistake, though he is not sure how the mistake occurred. The drums are labeled with the names of the chemicals they contain.
He said he believed it is standard procedure for the contractors to consolidate the same types of chemicals, but that the procedure might change now as a precautionary measure.