Extractor fan malfunction behind 'gas' leak at Wits residence

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Students are seen in front of the Great Hall at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Students are seen in front of the Great Hall at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Gallo Images / Sowetan / Sandile Ndlovu
  • Around 60 Wits students were hospitalised on Sunday.
  • They became ill after eating at a dining hall, the university said.
  • The dining hall has since been closed and the matter is under investigation.

Preliminary investigations into a suspected gas leak at a campus residence at Wits University revealed that one of the main extractor fans in the kitchen apparently malfunctioned, causing "kitchen fumes" to enter the dining hall.

Around 60 students were hospitalised after they fell ill at the residence in Johannesburg.

Paramedics were called to the scene in Parktown at around 18:00 on Sunday, after "numerous students complained of shortness of breath",  ER24 spokesperson Russel Meiring said.

"On arrival, emergency workers found that numerous students, aged 18 and upwards, had already evacuated the buildings and were...crowding the sidewalk and street," Meiring added.

"Medics set up a triage area and began to tend to the patients, assessing approximately 170 people."

READ | Suspected gas leak affects pupils in Richards Bay, northern KwaZulu-Natal

Wits University spokesperson Shirona Patel said the incident took place in a dining hall. The hall has been closed since.

"The university can confirm that a group of students from one residence cluster presented with similar symptoms last night. It seems like they were all eating at one dining hall."

The 60 people were transported to hospitals in the area and the rest declined further treatment, Meiring added.

"The exact details surrounding this incident are unknown, but local authorities were on the scene for further investigations," Meiring said.

He said a gas leak was suspected.

Patel added that preliminary investigations had shown that one of the main extractor fans in the kitchen apparently malfunctioned. This resulted in "kitchen fumes" entering the dining hall.

"[The extractor fan] is being tested and will be fixed, replaced and tested before the Highfield Dining Hall reopens. Our occupational health and safety team is on site. All students have recovered well and nurses from our campus health and wellness centre are also on site to monitor them," added Patel.

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