Fire inspectors visit science building

The D.C. fire department cordoned off one of the main chemical storage rooms in Corcoran Hall while inspectors surveyed the building Wednesday, a fire official said.

Alan Etter, a fire department spokesman, said multiple inspectors were at Corcoran to “survey the general vicinity,” examining bottles of old chemical reagents. He said that a hazardous materials team went through the basement storage room and decided that the chemicals in question should be removed soon. The University will have them transferred from Corcoran Saturday.

Yellow caution tape and a “Do Not Enter” sign dressed the door to the basement organic reagent stockroom Wednesday morning.

The fire department inspectors determined that the chemicals – many of which were more than 10 years old – were inert, not posing an immediate threat to building, Etter said. He added the University initially called his department to have specialists assess the safety of certain chemicals. He said he didn’t know what the chemicals in question were.

Tracy Schario, GW’s director of Media Relations, said that the University is fully cooperating with the fire department’s visit to Corcoran, which she said is “nothing out of the ordinary.” The inspectors have been touring the science facilities since Monday and are expected to continue working for a few more days, she said.

“They have identified a few things they’d like us to pay attention to, but we are in compliance,” Schario said.

Schario added that fire inspectors routinely visit D.C. college campuses and that it has been a few years since they last inspected GW. She added that the fire department’s timing was “not in direct response” to an explosion in a science laboratory in January, but that it may have brought the University “higher on the fire department’s radar.”

A small explosion occurred the afternoon of Jan. 19 in Samson Hall, a science building connected to Corcoran Hall. The reaction took place when a graduate teaching assistant accidentally mixed two chemicals together. The incident prompted a largescale response by hazardous materials teams.

Corcoran had its own problems last semester, violating federal environmental code for the improper storage of hazardous waste.

In December The Hatchet reported that the D.C. Health Department found GW in violation of federal environmental law after an August inspection revealed improper hazardous material storage in Corcoran Hall. The University has been in good standing with the Environmental Protection Agency since Feb. 9, according to the EPA’s Web site.

Two employees with Disposal Consultant Services, the company that picks up GW’s hazardous waste, declined to answer questions about this week’s visit by fire inspectors. Professor Michael King, chair of the chemistry department, also refused to comment Wednesday morning.

In a Dec. 8 Hatchet article, King said that his facilities are a safe place to teach and conduct research.

In 2000, the EPA charged the University with failing to implement a “spill prevention, control and countermeasure plan,” and GW settled with the federal government for $29,460, according to a news release.

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