Carbon monoxide leak prompts UB to make safety changes in dorms


After a carbon monoxide leak in Richmond Quad poisoned 10 students and sent five of them to the hospital Sunday night, UB has made major safety changes in its dorms.

Freshmen roommates Neil Campbell, Bennett Sciacca and Tijo Mathew - three of the five Richmond residents who were hospitalized - are still shaken up with what they experienced. They're glad UB has finally made significant efforts to reach out to them.

Colleen Connolly, a student affairs student support coordinator, emailed them to schedule individual meetings to see if they need to get checked out or need help filling out forms to get reimbursed by UB.

"It's good at this point now that people have been in contact with me," Sciacca said. "It does make it a little better but, in general, it doesn't change the overall scope of things for me ... If it seems like it's just to avoid a lawsuit, that would be a little upsetting. But if it genuinely does mean they're trying to be there for us, it'd be better."

Sciacca is meeting with Connolly on Friday.

The 18-year-olds were initially upset with UB's response to the carbon monoxide leak. When a boiler in Richmond malfunctioned and carbon monoxide went undetected because the two required CO detectors on the same floor were missing, the poisonous gas reached the entire dorm.

UB said the detectors were present in October when the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control inspected UB residence halls. The university does not yet have documented proof it passed the inspection. The fire inspector verbally informed UB there were no violations in Richmond Quad, according to Director of Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S) Joseph Raab.

"We haven't received the 'certificate of compliance' from the state, which is issued for the whole Ellicott Complex and not the specific buildings," Raab said in an email. "This is normal that there is a brief gap between the end of the inspection and the receipt of the certificate."

Though UB replaced the missing plug-in detectors with wall-mounted battery-operated models and added detectors in the corridors on the third, fourth and fifth floors - which by law it isn't required to do - the victims told The Spectrum on Tuesday they didn't receive an apology from the university.

Sciacca, whose carbon monoxide level reached 17 times the normal amount,was very pale and could barely stand, said UB should cover his hospital bill, but the university has not addressed that issue.

Vice President for University Communications Joseph Brennan said UB might compensate the victims' bills. The students must first follow a New York State procedure, which calls for students to submit a form found on UB's website.

"The claims are then reviewed and the decision is made based on the circumstances of the incident," Brennan said in an email. "Until the forms are submitted and reviewed, and a decision rendered, we can't say 'yes' or 'no.'"

Though some victims were looking for an apology, Brennan said UB's official statement can be found on UB Reporter, which outlines the facts, what happened and what UB is doing about it.

To avoid this from happening again, Brennan said UB installed eight detectors in Richmond, though it is only required to have two on the ground floor (where the source of carbon monoxide is located). Now, there are detectors outside of room 588B, 578B, 475B, 481B, 378B and 375B, according to Brennan. These models are tamper-resistant.

EH&S said it will also perform weekly inspections of those detectors so they don't go missing like they did between October and Sunday.

UB is also beginning a project throughout all residence halls to install hardwired carbon monoxide detectors.

By Amanda's Law, UB only needs detectors on the ground floor where the boilers are, which can exhaust carbon monoxide.

"I think it's good that they put the carbon monoxide detectors in our hall ... They said it was an extraordinary measure, which I didn't really see as being very extraordinary," Sciacca said.

Sciacca said his meeting with Connolly on Friday will determine if he feels UB's response is appropriate.

Email: news@ubspectrum.com