Spill Stalls Science Center

Unnamed photo
Adam D. Sidman

A chemical spill involving a substance used in the water cooling system closed the Science Center at 7:00 a.m. this morning, according to a Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesman.

Four employees reported experiencing “mild symptoms” of respiratory and eye irritation while working in the area, according to Gerry Mahoney, captain of the Cambridge Fire Department.

Two of the four workers who reported the incident left the scene after evacuating the building. Two others were referred to paramedics, but the employees refused treatment.

The chemical, a microbiocide additive used in the treatment of water, is not dangerous if inhaled, but a small of amount of liquid can cause a “pretty noxious odor,” Mahoney said.

“Its greatest risk is if you get it on your skin,” he said. “That did not happen to anyone.”

The Science Center reopened at 11:45 a.m. after two teams of fire fighters outfitted with hazardous material suits entered the building, identified the five-gallon spill, and closed a series of valves at the sub-basement level.

The Cambridge Fire Department turned the building over to Harvard University Environmental Health & Safety at 11:15 a.m. Representatives from the group, who will be investigating the incident, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mahoney said that the spill was not likely the result of malicious intent. “We see them frequently enough that in many cases its just normal wear and tear,” he said.

All classes, lectures, and labs were canceled in the early morning. Professors, students, teaching assistant, library and Greenhouse Cafe employees waited outside in the warm weather for word of when he building would be reopened.

“I don’t know if class is canceled all day,” said Samit Dasgupta, a mathematics professor, as he waited outside.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith announced in an e-mail that the building would be temporarily closed. Many students did not receive the notification until hours after the building was reopened.

Elaine Clement, head of reference for Cabot Science Library, sat on one of the benches outside of the Science Center. “I’m just going to hang out in case any staff come in for work late,” she said.

Kyle G.K. Chen ’10 said he did not receive an e-mail informing him that his section scheduled for 10:00 a.m. had been canceled. He said that he and a friend played frisbee in front of Widener Library instead.

“I was kind of happy,” he said. “I can sleep now.”

—Staff writer Abby D. Phillip can be reached at

——Charles J. Wells contributed to the reporting for this story.