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University of Iowa News Release

March 20, 2003

Engineering Building Evacuated After Chemical Spill

A small chemical spill between 3:30 and 4 p.m. Wednesday in the University of Iowa's Seamans Center for the Engineering Arts & Sciences resulted in the evacuation of the building. Benoit Van Aken, 38, a post-doctoral student in civil and environmental engineering, was taken to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for examination and was released by 7 p.m.

The university's Health Protection Office (HPO) said that the student apparently was trying to open a bottle of trimethylamine (not trimethyl acetyl chloride, as earlier reported) when he spilled less than an ounce of it from its two-ounce container. Following the incident, the Johnson County Hazardous Material team and the University of Iowa Health Protection Office tested the Seamans Center facility and found no detectable level of the chemical. The chemical does, however, give off a lingering "fish odor" that has no direct correlation to health risk. (Amine chemicals generally can be smelled at extremely low levels, some 10,000 times below the level at which they would pose a health risk.)

An estimated 30 to 35 people used the north and east side exits to evacuate themselves from the building. The first person called to the scene, Ron Volesky of UI Facilities Services Group fire safety department, contacted the UI Department of Public Safety and activated the building's fire alarm system. The UI Department of Public Safety, in turn, called the Iowa City Fire Department and the Johnson County Hazardous Material team. The road between the Younkers Department Store in the Old Capitol Mall and the Seamans Center was temporarily closed.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Steve Parrott, director of University Relations, home 319-351-3555, cell 319-530-6972, .