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UPDATED: Hand College Quarantined, Mysterious irritant forces evacuation

Emergency workers in hazmat suits exit Hand College. (Alessandra Malito / The Statesman)

Dozens of students perched on the top of the hill by Hand College overlooked emergency vehicles for three hours on Sunday as hazmat teams tested students for a toxic chemical release contamination.

As passersby rode their bicycles and skateboards past the campus residence, police and fire officials stopped non-official cars going by the Tabler Drive and Circle Road intersection. Meanwhile, just feet from where they were guarding the quarantine, students from the Tabler residence hall were anticipating the news of what was the cause of what Dennis Whittam, a member of Suffolk County Fire Academy, confirmed to be an unknown air dispersant.

Some said pepper spray, others said tear gas, but the source of the chaos is still unknown as of press time. At around 7:30 p.m., students heard the hand-pulled alarm sound throughout the building, forcing them to evacuate.

Fire departments from Stony Brook, St. James, Centereach, Selden, Setauket, and the Town of Brookhaven arrived at the scene, along with the Suffolk County Police Department and Stony Brook Police. Students were told to wait together, although in separate groups: those who lived there but were not present at the time of the occurrence, those who lived on floors and parts of the building other than the B wing of the third floor, where the air dispersant originated and those who were from the contaminated area.

“They didn’t give us that much information,” said Daniel Chung, a fourth floor sophomore resident at Hand College who sat outside. “They didn’t really know much themselves.”

Red and white flashing lights from the emergency vehicles continued to illuminate the dark paths leading up to the residence hall, as officials dressed in hazmat suits admitted potentially-contaminated students to be washed down. The others sat behind yellow emergency tape with the words “FIRE LINE DO NOT CROSS,” looking around and talking with neighbors.

In fact, the only way to navigate around the dorm was to take the steep steps that lead to the rest of Tabler Quad. People walking by asked gazing spectators what happened, while others just wanted to know how they could get back into their rooms as they held their late-night dinners and coffees.

No injuries were reported, but an unnamed police official said four students passed out, while others vomited immediately upon smelling the chemical poison.

At approximately 11:30 p.m., the road was unblocked and emergency vehicles began to drive away, including a sheriff’s car with a popped-open hood. Residents were admitted back into the building, aside from those from the B wing of the third floor that were brought to the Tabler Arts Center for questions. The residence hall, with all windows open on the first floor, went back to a normal Sunday night, aside from the vomit that remained in one of the stairwells.

UPDATE:

In a statement to Newsday, Stony Brook University spokesperson Lauren Sheprow said it was “likely that the substance was an irritant such as pepper spray or mace.” She also said  that four students had been taken to the University hospital for “minor irritation complaints.”

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  • J

    JanaaSep 20, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    The unknown substance was tear gas. one of the fire marshals told me when i tried to pass by to get to my dorm (douglass)

    Reply
  • A

    AprilSep 20, 2010 at 10:54 am

    nice job Ali! I’d love to know what this “mysterious chemical” actually was, looking forward to the follow-up.

    Reply