Hazmat team unable to find source of 'irritant' that affected 20 at Mass. college

One of the college's buildings was evacuated due to a gas-like odor that led several to experience trouble breathing

Kiernan Dunlop
The Standard-Times, New Bedford, Mass.

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — Twenty Bristol Community College students and employees experienced trouble breathing and received medical attention after the 800 Purchase St. Campus was evacuated following a report of an unknown odor Thursday morning.

"The health and safety of our students, faculty and staff is always our top priority," Laura L. Douglas, President of Bristol Community College stated in a press release. "We remain in close contact with those who received medical attention. The college would like to thank the responding public safety personnel, and we appreciate the continued cooperation of our community."

According to BCC spokesperson Kevin Spirlet, "Those taken to the hospital have been treated and released, including the Campus Police Officer." Eyewitnesses had said someone who appeared to be a security guard was vomiting and having difficulty breathing following the evacuation.

The campus was closed for the rest of the day Thursday "out of an abundance of caution," Spirlet said. The facility will resume normal operations on Friday.

"The state hazmat team did not detect anything," Fire Chief Paul Coderre said later in the afternoon Thursday, "They were not able to determine what the source of the irritant was or the smell."

Since the source of the irritant was unknown, Coderre said they decided to keep the building evacuated for the day and air-out the lab where the incident occurred, opening all the windows they could and turning on lab vents.

Coderre said unless new information comes up, there are no further plans to investigate the cause at this point since they've done their due diligence.

Soon after the call came in, New Bedford Deputy fire Chief Scott Kruger said they had transported close to 10 people to the hospital from the scene with the predominant symptom being trouble breathing. He said there were others being triaged on site.

Kruger said first responders initially received a call reporting the smell of natural gas, "but it quickly became apparent once the first arriving crews got here it wasn't a smell of natural gas, it was actually some sort of chemical gas when they arrived on scene."

The smell originated on the fourth floor and Kruger said a Hazmat team was on site trying to isolate the source of the smell, to determine exactly what type of gas it was, or if it was a mixture.

BCC student Honora Scaduto was in a classroom on the fourth floor during the incident and was transported from the scene on a stretcher. She said at the time she was coughing and felt light-headed.

"I feel fine now though," Scaduto told The Standard-Times later Thursday afternoon, "A bit of a scratchy throat. There wasn't a huge cause for concern when we got to the hospital. Everyone's vitals were normal and we weren't there for long."

Scaduto said "After being discharged from the hospital along with four others, president Laura Douglas personally drove me from the ER back to my vehicle in the Elm Street Garage knowing I had no means of contacting someone to pick me up."

BCC student Marlayna Parsons was in Cafe Arpeggio on the bottom floor of the building with a friend when the fire alarm went off.

Parsons said when they evacuated the building, "we noticed one of the security guards coming out and he was unable to breath, throwing up, he was doubling over. and soon enough they had him on the oxygen tank with the gas mask sitting on the floor and I believe he got taken away in a gurney."

"I saw a few other people coming out tripping and stuff cause they couldn't breath," Parsons said, but she did mention she had a few other friends who were on the fourth floor who were perfectly fine.

The college's official twitter account sent out a tweet around 10:30 a.m., alerting the college community that first responders were onsite.

New Bedford Firefighters IAFF Local 841 posted on their Facebook page that numerous units were responding and asking the public to steer clear of the area.

"E1, E6, E7, L1, L3, L4 on scene at the BCC building on Purchase and William st. For a Hazmat incident. Please avoid the area if you can," the firefighters union stated.

Bristol Community College's tweet pledged to keep the college community updated as they learn more.


©2019 The Standard-Times, New Bedford, Mass.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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