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Ammonia leak contained at Maxcy Hall on SUNY Potsdam campus

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POTSDAM — A compressor leak in the ammonia cooling system for SUNY Potsdam’s ice arena was repaired after an early morning alert Tuesday brought in emergency hazmat crews, county decontamination units and fire departments from as far away as Watertown.

At about 6 a.m., a custodian doing a walk-through in Maxcy Hall, the college’s athletic facility, smelled ammonia and contacted a supervisor. The college evacuated the building and the immediate area around it, and canceled all classes and access to the building for the remainder of the day.

SUNY Potsdam’s Environmental Health and Safety Department contacted state and local first responders to “set the ball rolling to figure out what was going on,” university spokeswoman Alexandria M. Jacobs said.

No injuries were reported, and the university said the leak never threatened serious danger. The university could not confirm how much ammonia had leaked.

As of 5 p.m., the source of the leak had been repaired, but the building could not be opened.

“There is still currently a lingering strong ammonia odor in the building,” Ms. Jacobs said in a statement released at 5 p.m.

“The college is working on airing out the facility to let the odor dissipate. The safety perimeter will remain up during this process, and the building will remain closed tonight.”

Campus officials planned to conduct a walk-through of the building at 6 a.m. today to review air quality, before determining whether classes and activities can resume in the athletics facility. Students and faculty were advised to check for the status of the building via e-mail this morning.

“Obviously people’s safety comes first,” Ms. Jacobs said. “We are making sure that student, faculty, staff and visitors stay away from the building.”

Work is being done to the cooling system as part of an $8.7 million renovation to the arena.

Clean Harbors Co., which is under contract to SUNY Potsdam, headed the environmental cleanup in conjunction with Op-Tech, Massena. Additional responders included university police and physical plant crews, St. Lawrence County Emergency Services, fire departments from Potsdam, West Potsdam, Fort Drum and Watertown, Potsdam Volunteer Rescue Squad, hazardous materials teams from Fort Drum and Franklin and Jefferson counties, state police, state Department of Environmental Conservation, Jefferson County Emergency Services, New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control.

In June St. Lawrence County legislators voted against taking $35,000 from contingency to fund the county’s 16-member hazardous materials response team. That team is currently inactive because of a lack of annual Occupational Safety and Health Administration training this year.

St. Lawrence County Emergency Services Director Joseph M. Gilbert said the various mutual aid agreements exist for situations such as this. He said the response time Tuesday morning was impressive.

“We have hazmat personnel on the scene with their technical expertise and advisement to the first responders,” Mr. Gilbert said Tuesday morning. “All of our first responders, to a degree, are trained in hazmat operations, so we are not without expertise and we have that on scene.”

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