March 10, 2009

Shoreland residents evacuate after carbon monoxide reaches toxic levels

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The Shoreland was evacuated Sunday afternoon after the Chicago Fire Department detected high levels of carbon monoxide in the dorm’s basement. About 150 students were temporarily removed from the building, and one Shoreland engineer was hospitalized, according to Fire Department officials.

The Fire Department responded to a gas leak report, and later determined that the gas was carbon monoxide, calling for a level-one hazardous materials response, according to spokesperson Larry Langford. Responders found a high concentration of the deadly gas, estimated between 300 and 500 parts per million, in the Shoreland basement; lower levels were found on other floors of the building. Carbon monoxide levels of 35 parts per million can cause headaches and dizziness after prolonged exposure.

Students were evacuated at close to 1:30 p.m., according to Langford, and ushered to nearby Broadview Hall to escape the rain. Ray Graham, an engineer, had high levels of carbon monoxide in his blood, and was treated with oxygen in the lobby before being taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure. “He was in stable condition,” Langford said. “He was walking and talking, but his levels were a bit high.”

Many residents said they were surprised by the incident’s severity. “I was freezing in my flip flops because it started pouring rain. Some people had bathrobes and conditioner in the hair,” said first-year Monica Rivera, who stood outside the building with others. “We all thought it was a drill, and we couldn’t figure out why they would do that in this weather.”

First-year Brittany Fuller also thought there was a fire drill going on when she returned to the Shoreland on a bus from Pierce Dining Hall. “It was a little scary. I know you don’t pull out that many trucks for a fire drill, but it seemed like nobody really knew what was going on,” she said.

Students were allowed back into the dorm at 3:00 p.m., after emergency crews determined it was safe, said Director of the University Housing System and Associate Dean of students Katie Callow-Wright in an e-mail message sent to Shoreland residents Sunday evening.

The carbon monoxide was generated by one of the Shoreland’s two boilers, which malfunctioned that day, according to University spokesman Steve Kloehn. The boiler has now been completely shut down, and will remain unused until later in the month when it will be removed and repaired. City officials have endorsed this response, Kloehn said.

Shoreland residents temporarily lost hot water and heating, but regained both services by Sunday evening.