Stanford University: Burnt plastic prompts hazmat response at Stanford ChEM-H building, no injuries reported

Burnt plastic triggered hazardous chemical and smoke alarms at Stanford’s ChEM-H building on Wednesday, temporarily restricting area traffic as a hazmat team responded to the scene.

No one was injured in the incident, and fire sprinklers were not activated.

Shortly after 8 a.m., the alarms automatically notified the Palo Alto Fire Department, and a slight haze was detected in a room within the building, said Deputy Chief Kevin McNally. The building was evacuated while firefighters went inside.

The fire department’s hazmat team was called in and responded to the scene while the community was advised to avoid the area. Campus Drive West between Roth Way and Panama Street, and Via Pueblo between Panama Street and Via Ortega were closed to foot and vehicular traffic.

The hazmat team initially had an undetermined chemical reading and had to enter the building a second time to conduct another one, McNally said. Due to the unknown nature of the initial information, firefighters needed to take a “slow and methodical” approach, he explained.

“It was later determined that a plastic beaker was accidentally left on a hot surface, causing it to melt, burn and smoke, which triggered the alarms,” said Russell Furr, associate vice provost for environmental health and safety. The building and roadways were reopened by 2:30 p.m.

“It was a very small incident that unfortunately required the same amount of resources as a larger one,” McNally said. “We’re very thankful it was nothing.”

The Mountain View Fire Department and Stanford personnel provided assistance at the scene.

The ChEM-H building, located on the west side of the main campus, is home to chemists, engineers, biologists and clinicians working to understand life at a molecular level and apply that knowledge to improving human health.

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