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Chemical find forces brief evacuation of student housing units

STANFORD -- Two apartment units at Escondido Village, a housing complex for Stanford University graduate students, were evacuated briefly Tuesday, Nov. 1, while authorities removed a canister containing anhydrous ether.

The canister was transported without incident to the Environmental Safety Facility for safe storage, testing and proper disposal, said Craig Barney, manager of Chemical Waste Programs in Environmental Health and Safety.

The four-liter canister of ether, which was about half full, was found Oct. 31 in a common storage area at 53 Escondido during a routine fire safety inspection by the Palo Alto Fire Department. Inspectors also found a four-liter container of toluene, a solvent, in the storage area.

Personnel from Environmental Health and Safety were immediately called to inspect the scene and decide what to do with the hazardous materials. They removed the toluene for disposal. But hazards associated with moving old ether - it had a September 1988 expiration date - led them to temporarily leave it in place. The storage area was barricaded and residents were notified.

A meeting was held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1, to discuss removal. The storage area was inspected by Palo Alto firefighters, Stanford police and removal specialists from California Advanced Environmental Technology Corp. It was decided the ether was to be removed between noon and 2 p.m.

Barney said disturbing old ether can be dangerously volatile if peroxides have formed. A visual inspection showed no signs of danger, but as a precaution the canister was treated as if disturbing its contents could cause an explosion and fire.

About 20 residents of 53 and 54 Escondido were asked to stay out of their apartments for two hours, said Chris Griffith, director of graduate residences. State and local agencies were notified, as were local residents that might wonder what the "convoy" across campus was all about.

After the area was sealed by police and fire officers, a crew wearing safety suits moved the canister into a special trailer designed for transporting hazardous materials. With full police and fire escort, the trailer proceeded to the Environmental Safety Facility, where the canister was scheduled to be analyzed after a remote opening procedure.

Barney said for safety reasons the analysis would not take place until after 5 p.m., when most staff members had left for the day.

It is not known how or when the ether and toluene were placed in the storage facility.

Anyone who comes across hazardous waste or suspicious material of any kind should not attempt to move or dispose of it, Barney said, but should contact Environmental Health and Safety at 723-0448.



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