Morningside buildings safe after suspicious odor

September 3, 2015

Dear Columbia Community,

As a follow-up to the University’s emergency text messages earlier today, all Morningside buildings are safe to occupy as of 11:50 this morning. As you may be aware, we conducted a precautionary evacuation in response to a gas-like odor that spread across upper campus. Environmental Health and Safety confirms that there are no health or medical concerns related to the odor.

I want to thank everyone who was asked to evacuate their buildings for their patience and support and for the orderly evacuation that occurred.

The odor resulted from a very small spill of a sulfur-like compound (a few milliliters) late this morning in a chemistry laboratory in Havemeyer Hall. The lab followed appropriate safety protocols, contacted Environmental Health and Safety, and immediately took steps to contain the spill. The cleanup protocol dictated placing the spill remnants in a chemical fume hood, which, in combination with a strong wind, caused the odor that was noticed across campus.  No injuries were reported by the lab.

Public Safety responded swiftly to reports of the odor and evacuated upper campus buildings as a precaution. Per University protocol, Columbia alerted the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) and Con Edison, who arrived quickly to investigate.

At 11:50 a.m., FDNY Hazardous Materials and Columbia Environmental Health and Safety confirmed that all buildings at Morningside were safe to reoccupy, and we shared this information immediately via emergency text message and email.

As a reminder, if you smell a gas-like odor, or have other reason to suspect a gas leak: Call Public Safety at 212-854-5555 and Facilities Operations at 212-854-2222. Environmental Health and Safety provides detailed guidance for our community on gas leaks (see page 5).

We appreciate all members of the community who followed this protocol and alerted us to the suspicious odor this morning. Thank you for acting quickly to share your concerns.

And thank you to everyone who responded to the precautionary evacuation. As always, your safety is paramount.

Sincerely,

David M. Greenberg
Executive Vice President
University Facilities and Operations
Columbia University