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Lab experiment gone wrong sickens 'Nova students

At least one student was sent to a hospital Tuesday afternoon following a leak of chemical gas into the air in a Villanova University science center.

The leak occurred about 2:30 in a third-floor chemistry laboratory in the Mendel Science Center, where freshman chemistry students were synthesizing esters — chemical compounds, a staff member said.

A student became ill, and classmates initially believed she was having an asthma attack, police said. Then her nose began to bleed, and other students felt faint and nauseated, and experienced tightness in their chests, police said.

The first student to become ill was taken to Bryn Mawr Hospital, and other affected students were expected to be taken to hospitals as well, police said. Up to 10 people in the classroom may have been affected, police said.

Later in the day, several emergency vehicles remained parked outside the science center, and students were being decontaminated in a blue tent outside the building. Decontamination efforts were complete by 5 p.m., police said.

The science center was quickly evacuated, and shortly afterward first responders rushed into the building wearing gas masks, students said.

Some students left books and personal items in their classrooms as they were evacuated.

"I can't go anywhere," said Shakyra Greene, a 19-year-old freshman who was in a statistics class in the science center when the building was evacuated. "All my things — my [ID card], my cellphone — are in there."

EMS personnel wrapped blankets around students and placed some on stretchers as they left the building, said Dan Kazmierski, a senior biology major, but "no one seemed to be panicking."

Kazmierski, who was in another section of the building when it was evacuated, said science departments were careful about keeping students safe in the lab.

"Normally you work with chemicals under a hood, with rubber gloves and goggles," Kazmierski said. "It's really strictly enforced."

Some students said the leak surprised them.

"It's crazy to think this could happen," said Joe Piro, a sophomore majoring in chemical engineering who was in the building at the time. "We learn about lab safety. We'll have to abide by the safety closer."

Inquirer staff writer Jeremy Dillon contributed to this article.