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A sewage collection pit in the basement of the 1920 Commons dining hall sits uncovered last weekend. The pit is in the same room as the ventilation system, which draws air from both inside and outside.[Elizabeth Rossi/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

Sewage and storm water collected from in and around 1920 Commons could be releasing gases into the ventilation system that circulates air through the dining hall.

A 25-pound iron lid has been missing from the floor of the mechanical room in 1920 Commons since at least Saturday. Facilities employees, however, say the lid has been missing for over six years.

The missing lid puts the University in violation of the Philadelphia Plumbing Code, which requires the storage areas for buildings' sump pumps -- which collect sewage -- to be covered at all times.

The lid should cover a sewage storage area that is located beneath the floor in 1920 Commons. The sump pump and storage area collect sewage and storm water from the building, and then pump the waste into the Philadelphia sewage system, Facilities and Real Estate spokesman Tony Sorrentino said.

A report was filed regarding the need for maintenance on Monday night, and since then, "temporary lids have been installed over the sump pumps," Sorrentino wrote in an e-mail.

A Facilities worker, however, said that reports have been filed regarding this issue every few months for several years.

The sump pump is in a mechanical room where the building's air handlers are located. While some are fresh-air handlers and draw air from outside, others may draw air from the mechanical room itself, Sorrentino said.

The Facilities worker who reported the problem on Monday said that some of the air handlers draw air for reheating from the mechanical room itself. That air is then circulated through the building.

As a result, gases from the sewage would circulate through the dining hall. Without a cap on the sewage storage area, the bacteria from the sewage could also circulate.

"E. coli bacteria and other bacteria associated with ... sewage cause illness in humans," Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Tom Rathbun said.

Sewage can attract "vectors, flies, vermin, rats. They can spread disease," he added.

"A new permanent lid is being designed, constructed and installed by one of the University's welders. We have been at work on it since Tuesday, and it will require a few days to complete because we have to order supplies," Sorrentino wrote.

"This is a situation that is easily rectified," said Andrea Swan, spokeswoman for Philadelphia's Department of Licenses and Inspections.

"We would issue a violation," she added, but it is actually a "very basic repair."

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