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Caustic Gas Leak Forces Evacuation At UCSD; 3 People Hospitalized

A leak of toxic fumes forced the evacuation of a building at the University of California San Diego on Thursday and sent three people to a hospital, authorities reported.

An employee of a private contractor was in a ground-floor laboratory at Jacobs School of Engineering shortly before 9:30 a.m., servicing the structure's ventilation system, when he accidentally cut a duct that carries a caustic gas, according to Lee Swanson, an information officer for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

The man left the building, went into a trailer used by his company and passed out, UCSD spokesman Jeff Gattas said. A co-worker found the unconscious man and made an emergency call.


Medics took the stricken worker to Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla along with another man who had been working at the building and a woman employed as a faculty assistant there. The latter two were evaluated for symptoms of light-headedness.

The man who had lost consciousness was alert and speaking again at the trauma center as of midday, Gattas said.

Emergency crews cleared out the roughly 200 occupants of the building -- which was only about one-third full because the university is on spring break this week -- and called in hazardous materials personnel.

Crews halted the leak and used the ventilation system in the building to blow out the vapors, then went through room by room to get comprehensive air-quality readings, Swanson said.

It was not immediately clear what type of fumes escaped into the building, though they are a type used in the laboratory for engineering research, authorities reported.