One of Cal Poly’s freshman residence halls was evacuated shortly after 5 p.m. Sunday, following complaints of “burning throats” and coughs from an unknown substance in the air. About two hours later, authorities ruled there were no dangerous substances detected in the building.
Cal Poly engineering freshman Luc Tousignant was on the first floor of the Santa Lucia dorm on Perimeter Road near the campus administration building when he and a group of friends were asked whether they could smell something unusual.
“We started feeling burning in our throats and coughing — you know, not normal, we knew that from the start,” he said. “We tried to air out the room, and we heard other people coughing, so we knew something was wrong.”
Tousignant said they alerted a resident adviser and were told to pull the fire alarm to start an evacuation. After the evacuation, most residents dispersed throughout the campus, he said.
San Luis Obispo fire Chief Garret M. Olson said some students reported seeing dustlike particles in the air in the male area of the three-story residence hall, though no evidence of any particulate matter in the air could be found.
By the time authorities arrived on scene, all of the students who had reported feeling ill were no longer showing symptoms, Olson said.
After more than two hours of investigation, the San Luis Obispo Fire Department and a county hazardous materials team could find no evidence of a hazardous material that could have triggered the reports of illness, Olson said.
He said investigators did initially detect a small amount of hydrogen sulfide — often known as “sewer gas” — in the building, but the level was “well below what would be considered hazardous limit,” and it could not be found again when the county hazardous materials team examined the area.
“It sounds like there was never any danger to students, but we wanted to double and triple check that just to be sure,” Olson said.
Students were allowed to return to the residence halls once the power was restored to the building later Sunday night.