ER shut down due to hazmat exposure

February 12, 2009 6:12:44 PM PST
Hazmat crews are on the scene at Valley Medical Center which has been partially shut down after a young man may have been exposed to hazardous chemicals.

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A chemical scare shuts down one of the biggest trauma centers in the Bay Area for hours. It caused nearly 100 people to be quarantined and prompted evacuations at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.

The chemical turned out to be hydrogen sulfide gas. We don't know if the initial victim intentionally or accidentally exposed himself to that chemical, but we do know that it triggered a massive domino effect that lasted for hours.

The emergency started at a home on Yucca Avenue in San Jose where Ann Herrera lives with her 19-year-old son John. Police say the mother called 911.

"With the young man, we only had that he was unconscious and with the officers that were exposed they were complaining of respiratory problems," said Capt. Barry Stallard from the San Jose Police Department.

Shortly after the victim was brought to Valley Medical Center, the entire emergency department was shut down. There was a fear the dangerous chemical at the house was now inside the ER.

"When you don't know what it is and you have the potential to something serious and life threatening you have to act like it something that's serious and life threatening," said Valley Medical Center spokesperson Joy Alexiou.

A total of 93 people were considered at risk, including 34 patients in the emergency room, 12 visitors and three dozen hospital staff.

"Once they found out I was contaminated or possibility contaminated, they directed me to the scene and that's where I spent most of my day," said Valley Medical Center worker Adam Casrez.

People were stripped of their clothing, washed down with soap and cold water and put into clean scrubs.

"When you see all the NASA suits and doing decontamination. I am not really used to seeing that," said a patient's mother Carlos Pena.

While the dramatic scene played out at Valley Medical Center, the hazmat team on Yucca Avenue determined the chemical at the house was a hydrogen sulfide gas.

"The deal with hydrogen sulfide gas is it's only dangerous in that immediate area. Once you get a few feet away from it, there's no danger," said Captain Steve Alvarado from the San Jose Fire Department.

The extra precautions were quickly lifted, people who were not decontaminated were allowed to leave and the ER was re-opened.

"It was a process that was necessary, I mean I'm not going to say it was a waste of my time because if in fact it was hazardous, I'm glad I went through the process," said Casrez.

The 19-year-old victim is in critical condition. All of the emergency room at Valley Medical Center was shut down for about five hours.

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