Brown Mythbusters: The Bio-Medical Center exhaust vent


There is a distinct yin and yang vibe surrounding the two concrete structures on the north patio of the Bio-Medical Center. The eastern stack takes outside air in. The western stack pumps inside air out. Today, we are only concerned with the output stack, whose overhead cover and continuous output of warm air offers refuge from the cold for some, but evokes a sense of danger in others, who believe toxic chemicals from the research center are dispelled through the vents.

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Professionally-rendered diagram of air flow.

“I always hold my breath when I walk by there,” says Erik Danie ‘18.

So by basking in a few seconds of warmth, do you run the risk of exposure to hazards such as carcinogens and possibly even byproducts of top-secret biomedical experiments? Or is the exhaust safe to inhale? Or does it even matter?

Phase 1: Unlike the CIT shower investigation, this myth only required one step to solve. We spoke with a representative from facilities who assured us that the air is, in fact, perfectly safe to breathe. All exhaust that escapes the concrete structures—which serve as both fire stairwell egresses and ventilation output—comes from classrooms and meeting rooms in the building. This air is kept separate from the lab ventilation and output from fume hoods, which exits through the top of the building.

Although the idea of easy access to toxic fumes from the biology/medical labs could be appealing to those seeking new freaky superpowers, the only thing remotely dangerous about the air under the western ventilation stack is the second hand smoke coming from the guy standing next to you.