Strange steam in the Quad sparks alarm

Olivia Doak

A large, mysterious cloud of steam gushed from the ground near the Gerber Center stairs on Monday, Feb. 24, maintaining its presence throughout the week.

The steam cloud was so thick and voluminous that it covered the Quad.

Many students had no choice but to walk through it on their way to class because the steam was coming from one of the highest traffic areas on campus. It did not go unnoticed.

“There were huge, billowing clouds of smoke and people were telling me it smelled terrible and kinda weird,” senior Hunter Ridley said.

“There was a lot of it and I just had no idea what it was,” senior Mia Gerace said.

People began to wonder what the cloud was and to ask questions regarding health and environmental concerns.

“I think if it wasn’t harmful they would tell us it wasn’t harmful,” Gerace said. “But it makes me think if they didn’t say something, is it harmful?”

“So many students were like, ‘Oh it smells weird, what is it, is it some kind of poisonous gas?’ You know, you don’t really know what’s underground,” Ridley said.

According to the director of facilities Robert Lanzerotti, the steam coming from the manhole covers in the Quad was just that: steam.

“There’s nothing but steam,” Lanzerotti said. “There aren’t any corrosive things being blown into the air.”

Several underground pipes contain steam which flows from the boiler room next to Carver, to all academic buildings to provide heat to buildings. It was one of these heating pipes that experienced a leak.

According to Lanzerotti, the pipe that experienced the leak is about 40 years old and experiences 40 to 50 lbs of steam pressure that pushes through this specific line of pipe before it gets to any of the buildings.

However, the heat from the steam degrades the pipes over time. In this case, it caused a small hole that allowed the steam to escape. Since the soil in the area was sandy, the steam was able to flow out of the ground.

As for the smell, Lanzerotti said that’s from the heat of the steam.

“It also could be from the ground itself and whatever is in the ground warming up,” Lanzerotti said.

In general, when steam comes out of the manhole covers it is indicative of a leak somewhere in the piping. Other times, however, if it just rained or there’s moisture underground, the heat from the pipes will cause the creation of more steam.

Both Lanzerotti and Ridley are on the Sustainability Committee Task Force for the college and are focused on reducing Augie’s carbon footprint.

“All the heat is created in the power plant and pushed through these systems,” Lanzerotti said. “It’s a much cheaper and very efficient way to heat buildings.”

Facilities plans to fix the pipes on a temporary basis until the summer, where they will replace a lot of the older heating pipes.

While the mysterious cloud of steam turned out to be harmless, Gerace says it’s still important that students continue to be curious about things that go on on campus.

“This is our community. We should be asking questions,” Gerace said. “When you’re attached to a place, you become curious about it and you become invested in what the environment is looking like.”

“You’re on a college campus where we’re essentially creating the next generation of people that are going to run this world,” Ridley said. “Your environment is something you have to pay attention to each and every day and I think it’s important that people are exposed to it here and understand it’s something you need to pay attention to.”