A hazmat team prepares to enter the MCLA towers on Saturday night after a strong smell forced the dormitory to be evacuated.
Updated at 9 p.m. on Sept. 21: Tower B was reopened as of 6 p.m. on Monday night.
Tower A remains closed, although testing has not found any contaminant or source of the odor that caused the dormitory's evacuation on Saturday.
"On Sunday, September 20, Clean Harbors, an environmental contractor who specializes in emergency response air testing, was hired by the College to conduct a detailed evaluation of the building. Varieties of technology were used throughout the entire area of Berkshire Towers. These tests showed no traces of contaminants," according to a statement from the college.
Further testing was done on Monday with results expected by Tuesday. Representatives from North Adams Fire Department, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Indoor Air Quality Program, and MCLA Facilities Management Department also did a walk-through on Monday.
Updated, write-thru, new photos; 11:08 p.m.; latest update at 9:22 a.m., Sept. 20, includes possible cause of odor.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Nearly 30 MCLA students were taken to the hospital on Saturday night after being exposed to an unknown substance that caused the evacuation of the Berkshire Towers dormitory.
According to a statement from Massachusetts College of LIberal Arts on Sunday morning, "indications of ammonia were found but no source was identified. The college has arranged for further air quality testing to ensure the safety of Berkshire Towers residents."
The Berkshire Towers will remain closed for the short term until then and students residing in the dorms will be offered alternative housing. Classes will resume Monday as scheduled.
The students who were taken to the hospital for evaluation have returned to campus.
James Stakenas, vice president of administration and finance of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, said on Saturday night the the Regional Center for Poison Control had recommended taking the students to the hospital as a "hyper precaution."
"The students are being transported by MCLA vans with EMT folks," Stakenas said. "Again, it's a hyper precaution and the parents of these students are being contacted."
Students on the fifth floor of Tower A had complained of an unidentifiable smell and throat irritation at about 5:30. The Fire Department was called, which in turn contacted the Department of Fire Services Hazardous Materials Response for the tier 2 response.
"They are going to monitor and check for different types of chemicals," said Fire Chief Stephen Meranti. "There's not much for chemicals — there is no refrigeration, no air conditioning, no aerosol."
Meranti said the focus is on Tower A, the northern of the two high-rise dorms on Church Street.
"We don't have any reports of anything in Tower B," he said.
The chief said the evaluation is very labor intensive, with suited hazmat personnel rotating through the building.
"They're still metering, they're still monitoring, it's a methodical process. They have to go floor by floor to check the area," he said. "You can only be in there for a certain amount of time. They do what they can. they come out and they send another team .... it's a continual rotation.
"It's a long drawn-out process."
Two teams in two vehicles arrived at 8:25 and at 8:55 p.m., with the first team entering the building shortly before 9 p.m.
Meranti did not know what they were measuring for but anticipated they would be able to do an evaluation onsite with their specialized equipment.
Twenty-seven students who were on or near the fifth floor, or who complained of similar symptoms, were taken to Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield and to its North Adams campus. They were required to shed their clothing and to be transported in Tyvek suits as part of the hospital's decontamination procedure. Meranti said that was "standard procedure."
Earlier in the evening, several students had said they were told to the gather in the towers' lobby, then left the building when the alarms went off.
"Students detected a smell at about 5:30 and notified the Fire Department," Stakenas said. "The students were evacuated to Venable Hall."
Both towers were expected to be closed for hours, if not the entire night. The city was providing its emergency shelter trailer and was able to help provide food and other comforts. Pizza from Pizza Works was also ordered for the displaced students stuck in Venable's gymnasium because the cafeteria had closed.
Stakenas estimated about 80 students had been evacuated; the towers hold about 250 but many may have left for the weekend or were elsewhere.
North Adams Ambulance Service stationed an ambulance near the gym. Also on scene is the mobile incident command vehicle, North Adams firefighters and police, campus police, and the North Adams Ambulance rehab trailer.
Church Street was closed between Blackinton Street and Hoosac Hall.
There were a few students frustrated with the inability to reach their dorms. "I just want to get some pants," said one girl. Another was annoyed that she was unable to find out when they would be able to get back in or where they would be sleeping.
Stakenas said students should be checking their phones for updates through the college's alert system.
Two students said they were unable to get prescription medicine that was in their dorm rooms. Catherine Holbrook, vice president of student services, said students in those cases should contact college staff to assess how critical the need is; North Adams Ambulance General Manager John Meaney Jr. noted that in an emergency, they can call 911.
Holbrook also encouraged students to contact their parents as soon as possible.
"Students should be talking to their parents and letting them know they're OK," she said. "There are a lot of worried parents contacting our police and the town, it's tying up the emergency numbers."
Strong odor forces the evacuation of MCLA Berkshire towers dormitory on Saturday night. The hazmat team was on the scene along with local fire and police. Some 30 students were affected.
Posted by iBerkshires.com on Saturday, September 19, 2015