Do not use thermal heating packs on campus

To: UC Santa Cruz residential students

From: Nader Oweis, Chief of Police; and Nick Otis, Campus Fire Marshal

Police and fire officials urge students who remain in campus housing to avoid the use of thermal heating packs to heat food. The packs, which are activated by water and are often included in emergency kits, produce carbon monoxide, which can be extremely dangerous if inhaled. Symptoms of carbon-monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. In extreme cases, inhalation can be fatal.

The UC Santa Cruz Police Department and Santa Cruz fire officials have responded to campus residential halls a half-dozen times in recent months after gas detectors alerted them to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. Locating the source is often difficult, as the gas quickly dissipates and gives off no smell, but authorities believe the use of thermal packs in confined dorm rooms is the cause. Campus officials worry that more students may attempt to use the packs to heat food now that dining is operating on a more limited schedule due to the COVID-19 restrictions.

The packs are inappropriate for on-campus use. They are designed for use only in well-ventilated areas. Fire officials caution that faulty packs also have been known to ignite on contact with water or moist air, sometimes explosively.

Safety Tips

  • If you feel you or others are in danger, immediately call 911.
  • If you see anyone using thermal heating packs on campus, alert them to the danger, then call 911. Reports may also be made by utilizing one of the several “blue light,” emergency or elevator phones located throughout the campus.
  • Trust your instincts. If something makes you uneasy, tell someone or leave the area.