NEW IBERIA — The more than 6,500 primates at a University of Louisiana at Lafayette research center near the site of a chemical fire in New Iberia this week appear to be OK, school officials said Friday.
The 245 employees at ULL’s New Iberia Research Center returned Friday after an evacuation that was prompted by a fire at Multi-Chem, a facility on West Admiral Doyle Drive that supplies chemicals to the oil industry.
The primates were left on the 70-acre campus, in part because of the difficulty of moving such a large number of animals. But they do not appear to be showing any short-term effects from the nearby chemical fire or from stress related to the incident, said New Iberia Research Center Director Thomas Rowell.
He said the primates, which are used in medical testing, will be monitored over the coming months to determine if there is any increase in sickness or death and whether the incident had any effect on pregnant animals.
One area of the research center where primates are kept in outside cages is about 300 yards from the site of the chemical fire, he said.
He said intense heat was overwhelming when standing in the area nearest the blaze — where about 100 to 120 primates are kept — but not when close to the ground.
“All the animals were smart enough to get down on the ground,” he said.
Rowell said a small group of employees were given access to the research center during the evacuation to care for the primates.
He said there are no plans to test the primates for exposure to chemicals because it could do more harm than good.
“That, in itself, could be added stress,” Rowell said.
The fire at Multi-Chem burned 24 hours and was extinguished Wednesday.
A 1-mile evacuation order for the area around the fire was lifted Thursday morning.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation and cleanup is expected to continue for several weeks, said State Police spokesman Trooper Stephen Hammons.