Potential Gas Leak a False Alarm


(Photo by Courtney Tanner)

(Photo by Courtney Tanner)
(Photo by Courtney Tanner)

For Kristina Lundgren, Tuesday night could have ended badly.
Lundgren, a junior in materials science and engineering, was in the HEDCO building computer room when she heard rumors of a gas leak. She immediately went down to the lab, where she heard a hissing sound. Lundgren, following lab procedure, began to open the windows to air out the room.
“Working in a lab, you go through a lot of precautions,” she said. “I felt I was well prepared and knew what to do.”
Luckily for Lundgren, the rumored gas leak was a false alarm. The Salt Lake City Fire Department arrived at the scene near 6 p.m., sending in a HAZMAT team to investigate.
Initial meters found 0.5 parts per million of hydrogen cyanide gas in the lab. Jasen Asay, spokesperson for SLCFD, said this is a “very, very small amount,” but the crews evacuated the building as a safety precaution because the gas is “dangerous even if a small amount.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, hydrogen cyanide is often “rapidly fatal” because it hampers the body’s ability to process oxygen.
SLCFD crews set up a 300-foot “hot spot” around the building, leaving evacuees standing outside for more than an hour as the temperature dipped into the 40s Fahrenheit. The HAZMAT team then re-entered the building with new meters and found no traces of the deadly gas. Instead, they discovered “normal” laboratory amounts of chlorine.
Asay said the original meters were “faulty,” giving a false reading. The hissing sound Lundgren reported, he said, came from construction crews installing a new air vent in the building. The workers had removed tiles from the ceiling, making a usually imperceptible sound audible to those near the lab.
“It’s just human nature when you hear a hissing sound to start thinking it could possibly be gas,” Asay said. “Of course, if people think that there’s a gas leak, we want them to call 9-1-1.”
There is no hydrogen cyanide stored in the building, and Asay said the fire department plans to look into why the meters showed incorrect measurements. He said this phenomenon does not occur often.
Lundgren estimated there were no more than 10 people in the building at the time. She and one other student reported feeling light-headed at the scene. No other injuries were reported.
“It’s a scary thing,” she said. “It could have been so much worse.”
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