Valve Malfunction Blamed For IAB Chlorine Leak

The Buildings and Grounds (B&G;) maintenance worker who was changing a chlorine tank below the Indoor Athletic Building (IAB) pool last Monday when a large amount of the toxic gas escaped said yesterday that the accident occurred when a valve he was tightening "popped off under heavy pressure."

Frank J. Geribo, of B&G;'s utilities division, called the incident a "fluke" and dismissed as "completely untrue" an account given by another Harvard worker who said the leak resulted from a faulty chlorine gas line which had been allowed to deteriorate into a dangerous state of disrepair.

While making a routine tank change, Geribo said, he was tightening a valve on the transmission line and detected a slight leak.

Valve 'Pops Off'

"I tightened the valve a little more and then tried to tighten it quickly, and it popped off under heavy pressure," Geribo said.

Thirty-four people required medical treatment for exposure to the chlorine, and police evacuated Lowell House for two hours.

Geribo emphasized that all of the equipment was in good condition at the time of the tank change. "If there had been [deterioration] there were plenty of replacements, and I could have just replaced [the pipe]," he added.

After the leak increased, Geribo said other Harvard workers called Cambridge firemen and warned participants in an early-morning swimming program to leave the building. Geribo said he remained in the tank area and eventually "capped the leak."

Cambridge Fire Chief Daniel Reagan said last week, however, that one of his men, Anthony Iantosca, had stopped the flow of gas after entering the tank area and finding the transmission line "completely detached from the tank."

Neither Reagan nor Iantosca could be reached for comment yesterday.

Statement Clarified

Geribo's account clarified an earlier University statement on the gas leak, which said only that a standard safety test during the tank changing "disclosed a slight leak, and before procedures were completed, a release of chlorine began."

Although Harvard officials have refused to comment further on the incident, Frank A. Marciano, B&G; main-area superintendent, said Geribo's account "is consistent with the story" he has heard from other workers.

Marciano declined to elaborate beyond saying that the leak resulted from a "mechanical failure of some sort."

Investigation Continues

A University investigation of the incident will continue, Marciano said, but he added that "whether anyone knows exactly what happened is out of my hands."

Lawrence J. Joyce, director of B&G;, has declined comment on the leak since it occurred, saying only that, as far as he knows, a "broken coupling" caused the problem.

He said last week that he had not heard any report of faulty piping and "would not believe what has been said" about any deterioration