Chemical spill forces evacuation of UAA science building

Casey Grove

There were no injuries reported after a chemical spill at the University of Alaska Anchorage forced the evacuation of a science building, according to campus police and the Anchorage Fire Department.

A professor working alone in a lab at the university's ConocoPhillips Integrated Science Building on Alumni Loop accidentally spilled some calcium carbide into a sink with the faucet running, said Tim Garbe, a battalion chief with the fire department. The chemical mixed with water in the sink, creating a flammable gas called acetylene, Garbe said. The professor left the room and called 911 at about 3:30 p.m. A dozen fire department vehicles headed to the building, the battalion chief said.

Firefighters evacuated about 200 students from the three-story building, Garbe said. Wearing fire-resistant clothing called turnout gear, the firefighters used air monitors to sample for gas at various points inside the building and did not find dangerous levels that might ignite unexpectedly, Garbe said.

"Since acetylene's primary danger is it's an explosive gas, it has a wide explosive range, being in their structural turnouts would be the best protection in that setting," Garbe said. "Plastic suits don't do very well if there's a fire."

The firefighters found the lab sink was no longer producing gas, and they further diluted the chemicals with water, Garbe said.

"It had already mixed with water and gone down the drain. We monitored, and since there was no longer gas being produced out of the drain, the fix then is to continue to dilute it, because then it's no longer an issue," he said.

There were no injuries or medical issues reported, Garbe said. Firefighters let students and university staff back in about 4:15 p.m. 

Reach Casey Grove at or 257-4589.