April 15, 2005
Students left in dark during leaksAlthough Susquehanna administration has expended a considerable amount of energy to quash all possible threats to safety on campus, the health of at least 28 students was endangered Monday for the second time this year while the university failed to respond.
Hassinger Hall residents returning from dinner that day were confronted by the acrid odor of natural gas, which had permeated the building and concentrated on the third floor.
A third-floor student with a carbon monoxide detector grabbed it and rushed to the hallway and the stairwell to take a reading. The detector flashed as high as 232 in both areas. At a reading of 70 -- 168 points less -- the warning label on the detector advises users to evacuate the building.
Fearing for their health, the students told their RA, who called public safety to report the leak.
The students returned to their rooms, where the fumes had concentrated. The detector buzzed, and the screen blinked 238 -- more than halfway to the maximum possible reading of 400.
It was déja vu for third-floor Hassinger residents, several of whom became physically ill following a natural gas leak in December that was not repaired for days -- perhaps longer.
One resident told me that during that leak, she and several others vomited in the bathroom after being overcome by the fumes. The mother of one student called the Office of Residence Life but got no answers regarding the leak and when it would be fixed.
As hours passed Monday without response, one student contemplated leaving for home due to fear for her own health.
Another student said she was afraid to go to sleep because if she did and the gas levels rose even higher, she would never know. Compounding the problem, low temperature in the 30s overnight made leaving windows open to let fresh air in an unpleasant option.
Finally, late that night, word passed around the hall -- surprisingly, there was no official announcement -- that a test had been conducted and that the hall was "safe." The information did nothing to diffuse the veil of fumes that still hung in rooms on the third floor. Tuesday passed with no word from the university. On Wednesday morning, several workers arrived at the hall in marked vans. When asked whether the leak had been fixed, one man said, "We're working on it."
After the December leak, it is unacceptable that Hassinger residents were again jeopardized by a toxin that can kill.
Even if the university didn't know about the severity of the leak, it should have -- after all, it has the resources to patrol every parking spot.
These incidents are a microcosm that the entire campus should examine. The veil of secrecy that surrounds Susquehanna is as thick as the fumes in Hassinger on Monday, and that is a disservice to everyone.
-- Jon Fogg '05
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