Electrician causes major fuel spill

About 500 gallons of heating oil spilled from tanks underneath University Yard over spring break when an electrician forgot to turn off a pump, a University spokesperson said Tuesday.

The spill forced the evacuation of multiple GW buildings on March 14. The active pump was refilling a tank on the roof of Lisner Hall with heating oil, University spokeswoman Tracy Schario said.

“He was trying to refuel the generator, which is on the rooftop, from the underground tank,” she said. “While he thought he had gone through proper procedures to ensure all the pumps were turned off, he unknowingly left one running.”

Schario did not know if the individual was a GW staff member or contracted official.

The underground tanks that overflowed hold about 6,000 gallons of fuel each, Schario said, and the escaped fuel went into a containment area. Schario said she did not have details on the spill’s financial impact, but said an inspection conducted by the D.C. Water and Sewage Authority showed that no spilled fuel leaked into water supplies.

Schario called the spilled liquid “fuel reserves,” adding that no damage had been done to the tanks, which are functioning again.

“It’s for generator power. It’s not the primary heating source,” she said.

Someone reported an odor to the University Police Department at about 8:30 p.m., Schario said, and UPD evacuated Lisner Hall shortly after. Officials from the D.C. Fire Department said the spill was believed to be contained by 11 p.m., and cleanup was completed in the early hours of Sunday morning. A contracted cleaning company arrived shortly before 3 a.m. Sunday morning.

Schario said fuel was both absorbed and recovered during the cleanup process.

The incident elicited a large emergency response, including more than a dozen D.C. Fire Department units that helped initially contain the spill. Schario said a member of D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty’s staff was on scene, along with GW officials.

About 60 people were evacuated from the Law School complex, which includes Bell, Lisner, Stuart and Stockton halls, and the law library. While the rest of GW had just started its spring break, the GW Law School was in session that week – but Schario said the complex reopened after cleanup efforts Sunday, and no classes were affected the following week.

“The library was open on Sunday and people were able to get into their offices if they wanted to,” Schario said. “We worked very quickly to have the situation cleaned up.”

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