Sodium cyanide discovered in Foster Mods following precautionary evacuation
A call to Public Safety warning of a potential chemical hazard resulted in the evacuation of 177 residents from the Foster Mods on Friday, according to University Communications Specialist Julian Cardillo in a series of statements to the Justice and other news organizations on Friday afternoon.
According to an email to the Justice from Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan, Public Safety was notified of the incident at 1:20 p.m. and the Waltham Fire Department was dispatched at 1:30 p.m.; they in turn dispatched the state’s regional HazMat team. The HazMat team arrived at 3:35 p.m. and most students returned to the Mods at 4:45 p.m., per the same email.
According to a 3:22 p.m. email from Vice President for Campus Operations James Gray to the University community, a hazardous chemical substance was found in the Foster Mods. A later email on Friday at 5:14 p.m. from Gray confirmed the chemical was sodium cyanide.
Gray clarified that the sodium cyanide was purchased commercially and was in the form of a non-volatile powder in an email yesterday to the Brandeis community. Additionally, he said there was no evidence that the purchaser intended to harm anyone with the sodium cyanide and “the material was identified, isolated, and removed appropriately and expeditiously.”
“Out of an abundance of caution, the Mods were evacuated. We do not believe there is a health risk to the community at this time,” Gray wrote.
In a phone interview with the Justice, Lieutenant Scott Perry of Waltham Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Office said that the Waltham Fire Department was notified about the incident at 1:44 p.m. and set up a perimeter around the investigation scene for safe containment when the department arrived.
Cardillo added in a press statement that University students were not allowed to get any closer to the Foster Mods than the Lindsey Athletic Building. Cardillo stressed that the University did not rush the Hazmat team to finish their investigation, because they wanted them to “do their job well.” Activities in Gosman Athletics Center held later that day were not interrupted.
Cardillo also stated that no one was detained or arrested, that there were no injuries and no one transported to the hospital, and there was no indication that the incident was a result of foul play.
In a phone interview with the Justice on Friday, Deputy Chief of Fire Suppression Group 4 Anthony Capello said that he did not think arrests were made by the Waltham Police Department, but that Brandeis Police would handle this internally. Capello said that emergency responders pulled the fire alarm in the Mods to evacuate the building quickly, as it was faster than knocking on doors.
Additionally, Capello said that by the time he spoke with the Justice at 6:40 p.m., only Brandeis Police were left at the scene. The Waltham Fire Department, Waltham Police Department and Hazardous Materials team left around “a quarter of five,” he said.
—Jocelyn Gould, Sam Stockbridge and Natalia Wiater contributed reporting.