December 3, 2020

HazMat teams respond at Webster Hall – Unknown substance now identified as primrose oil

HazMat responders assess the Admissions Office after an oily substance was found. PHOTO BY BRITTANY RUESS/THE JOURNAL

On Monday, Jan. 23, 19 response vehicles — including a Missouri Department of Natural Resources truck, two St. Louis County HazMat trucks and an ambulance — reported to an incident in Webster Hall. A financial aid employee told The Journal that vehicles had been outside the building since 8:30 a.m. today.

Webster Groves Police officer Stephen Spear said an unknown oily substance was found on furniture in the admissions office. He said the police activated the HazMat teams when they arrived out of due diligence. On site testing resulted in identifying the substance as non-toxic. Spear said the substance could be found in a grocery store, but did not disclose the name.

After nearly three hours of investigation, the HazMat teams and other authorities left campus around 11:30 a.m. During the incident, classes went on as usual and employees continued working in offices near the substance. The building was never evacuated.

In a statement, Webster University stated there was never a concern that people in Webster Hall may be in danger. The statement also said an act of vandalism was responsible for the substance.

To view a video of the event, go to


Sophomore music composition major James Brianwell was headed to the Financial Aid office in Webster Hall Monday, Jan. 23 when he was stopped by a Hazmat team and police officers.

“I walked in and saw two guys in Hazmat suits and they were both kind of like ‘you can’t come in here,’” Brianwell said. “Then a police officer started coming down the steps and was like ‘yeah you’re not allowed to be in here at this time.’ They wouldn’t tell me (what was going on), they just kept saying ‘you can’t be in here.’ They wouldn’t even say anything else.”

Brianwell found himself in the middle of local authorities responding to reports of an unknown oily substance on furniture in the Admissions office Welcome Center. Admissions employees found the substance when they arrived at work, and contacted Public Safety and the Webster Groves Police Department.

For nearly three hours, 19 response vehicles arrived outside Webster Hall, including two fire trucks, an ambulance, two St. Louis County Hazardous Material teams and a truck from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

“It was really weird to just start walking up here and see fire trucks and crazy stuff,” Brianwell said. “First I thought it was a fire.”

Around 11:30 a.m., Webster Groves Police Information Officer Stephen Spear announced that the substance was determined to be non-toxic and primrose oil.

Andrew Hogan, a freshman management major who works in Financial Aid, said chemists from the chemistry department located in the basement of Webster Hall, came to inspect the substance.

In a statement released by the university, Webster stated they took necessary precautions, even though they never felt anyone was in danger. When asked to explain typical procedure for a hazardous material incident, Public Relations officer Susan Kerth had no comment.

The university also stated they believe the substance was the result of an act of vandalism.

“I came into work this morning (in Admissions as a tour guide) and I heard that someone had gotten into the Welcome Center front desk and vandalized over the weekend,” said Laura Eschbacher, senior media communications major. “As far as the extent of the vandalism goes I’m not sure what it was or how bad it is.”



Keep checking for more information as the story unfolds. 

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