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257 Thayer facilities incident prompts evacuations

Emergency responders identified presence of volatile organic compound in basement, management did not notify residents

<p>Residents were evacuated from 257 Thayer for roughly two hours, according to Gary Zheng &#x27;24.</p>

Residents were evacuated from 257 Thayer for roughly two hours, according to Gary Zheng '24.

On Monday night at 5:01 p.m., the Providence Fire Department was dispatched to 257 Thayer Street — an off-campus apartment complex that primarily serves University students — in response to reports of a gaseous odor, according to an incident report reviewed by The Herald. 

After their arrival, emergency responders discovered the presence of a volatile organic compound in the building’s sump pump — a device that moves water out of a building’s basement — according to the report. On further inspection, emergency responders noticed the possible spill of a flammable liquid outside the building’s foundation, per the report.

VOCs, which are “emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids,” can have “short- and long-term adverse health effects” on humans, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website. The compounds are most commonly found in paint thinners, refrigerants, dry cleaning agents and petroleum.

Around the same time, building administrators began knocking on residents’ doors to evacuate the building, according to Gary Zheng ’24, a resident at 257 Thayer. Those already outside of the building were not permitted to enter.

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Apartment management told The Herald that there was “nothing wrong” with the building, but declined to comment on the situation or any claims regarding the building’s communications with residents. Residents had yet to be informed by management regarding the VOC by Wednesday night, according to Zheng.

Emergency responders detected the VOC within the building when their testing meters indicated the presence of a volatile organic compound “within the pit” of the sump pump, according to the report. Because VOCs are gaseous, this caused the odor to permeate through the basement and gym, which is on the first level of the complex. 

Fire officials continued to monitor the other floors of the building “but had no readings” of VOCs, the incident report said. While inspecting the foundation of the building’s rear, the fire department’s Special Hazards unit noticed “an area … where a flammable liquid may have been spilled.” The report also observed two empty fuel cans at an adjacent construction site, though it did not specifically cite them as the cause of the spill.

At 6:39 p.m., the fire department requested a hazmat response from Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management to provide additional testing, according to the incident report. 

“The Providence Fire Department notified us of (the incident), which is the standard protocol,” wrote Michael Healey, chief public affairs officer for RIDEM, in an email to The Herald.

Residents were permitted to re-enter the building at about 8 p.m., Zheng said. The building’s gym has remained closed since Monday night, according to Zheng.

Since the incident, management at 257 Thayer has not communicated with its tenants about the incident beyond stating that there was “not a gas leak” 

The next day, at approximately 11 a.m., the building’s management team sent an email to their tenants stating that the fire department “confirmed there was not a gas leak.” No follow-up communications indicated that the department detected VOCs, Zheng said.

“The management should’ve stated in the email that there was a leak of some chemicals, even if everything is alright now,” Zheng added. “I would still appreciate it if they told us the whole truth.”

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Owen Dahlkamp

Owen Dahlkamp is a Section Editor overseeing coverage for University News and Science & Research. Hailing from San Diego, CA, he is concentrating in political science and cognitive neuroscience with an interest in data analytics. In his free time, you can find him making spreadsheets at Dave’s Coffee.



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