Possible Pepper Spray Discharge Sickens Student

The third floor of Sunset Hall was temporarily evacuated Sunday night, around 11 p.m., displacing about 80 students for nearly two hours, after a resident suffered nausea and vomiting upon encountering a pungent odor on the third floor hallway. Police and fire officials say student play with pepper spray was likely to blame.

The 18-year-old freshman from Compton was the only reported case of serious illness. Other residents in the area reported coughing and shortness of breath, but no one required hospitalization.

Emergency responders from University Police Department, the Arcata Police Department, the Arcata Fire Department, Arcata-Mad River Ambulance, and the Eureka Fire Hazardous Materials Team met at the scene to assist HSU Housing officials and HSU’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety.

The floor was temporarily evacuated as a precaution. Ambulance personnel evaluated the evacuated residents and Housing staff provided blankets and water.

Experts from the Hazardous Materials Team entered the floor with breathing apparatuses and monitoring equipment, but detected no dangerous substances. Information gathered from witnesses and from initial observation by experienced personnel indicated the likely source of the odor was the discharge of pepper spray. The odor dissipated quickly and after a final safety check, the third floor was reopened to residents at about 1:15 a.m.

Although pepper spray is not illegal for most persons to possess on a college campus, the use of a teargas agent except in self-defense is a violation of Penal Code Section 12403.7(g), a felony. HSUPD is continuing to investigate the incident.

For additional information, contact the University Police Department at 707/826-5555.