By Jesse McLean
Three Pitman Hall residents are accusing the school of abandoning them with a room full of toxins after a vandal set off a fire extinguisher in their suite.
Since the incident occured around 2 a.m. on Saturday April 5, the women’s entire unit has been covered with ammonium-filled dust.
The students say they don’t know who the vandal is and, after the incident occured, they immediately called security and the front desk.
Despite being initially told they might be able to move to a new room, at 4 a.m., the students say residence staff then told them to go to sleep, and that it would be cleaned up the next day.
“That night, we had trouble breathing. We were coughing and I had a brutal headache,” said Danielle Ambs, a first-year journalism student.
Later that day, Ambs and her roommates, Sheila Ramsay and Leisha Scordino, spoke to security and residence staff two more times. When Ambs’ mother called the school, the students found out they had to clean the room on their own.
“It’s final project and exam time, and [residence] isn’t helping us at all,” Ramsay said.
However, Rob Emerson, supervisor of student housing maintenance said because the incident happened in the students’ suite, it’s their responsibility to clean.
“It’s not going to be a popular answer, but we don’t have the resources to take responsibility for the actions of every student in the building,” he said.
Emerson said residence has an emergency cleaning procedures for weekend incidences that are health and safety risks. He said he didn’t think this case warranted such a response.
“It’s as irritant as much as dust is an irritant,” he said. Health and safety expert Lesley Norris disagrees.
She said the dust from fire extinguishers, which include minor toxins monoammonium phosphate and ammonium sulfate, can cause serious breathing and skin irritation.
“If the university isn’t informing them of the hazards, then it’s definitely a health and safety issue,” she said.
Cate Drum, a campus environmental health and safety officer, said the discharge could be vaccumed.
However, Ambs and Ramsay say the vaccum on their floor is broken.
As of press time, the room was still covered with dust, although the students had started to clean.
The day after the incident, Ambs sent an e-mail to residence manager Glen Weppler complaining that the situation was not handled well. She asked to be informed whether the school would help, or compensate, cleaning the room.
In his response, Weppler avoided the question, and instead recommended Ambs and the others to tell security who set off the extinguisher.
“He basically told us it was our fault because we left our door open, even though our [residence advisor] told us in the first week to keep the door open to have a positive environment.
“That’s what residence is about, not this bullshit,” Ramsay said.
Weppler did not respond to requests for an interview. The students have a meeting scheduled later this week with Chad Nuttal, residence life co-ordinator.