Hazmat situation prompts temporary closure of San Jose health center

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ByChris Nguyen KGO logo
Thursday, May 5, 2016
Hazmat situation prompts closure of San Jose health center
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At least seven people were hospitalized after a chemical spill occurred at the Indian Health Center on Meridian Avenue in San Jose Wednesday afternoon.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- A massive hazmat response shut down a San Jose medical facility for most of the day Wednesday, forcing some of the patients to be taken to a nearby hospital after a chemical exposure.

It happened at the Indian Health Center on Meridian Avenue.

A section of Meridian Avenue is has reopened after being closed for several hours.

As a precaution, officials at the community health center said they've canceled their appointments for the rest of the day.

There were tense moments outside the Indian Health Center as patients and employees were wheeled into ambulances. "It could've happened to us, it could've happened to anybody, and it's so close, that's the thing for me," Jose Abbott said.

A total of 17 people were exposed to a chemical called cresol, a mild corrosive used as a sealant for children's fillings.

Of the 17 people, five adults and two children were transported to the hospital. "We treated this incident like a hazmat incident, a hazmat exposure, so we had over 35 firefighters who were out here on a full first alarm, with our hazardous incident team," San Jose Fire Department Capt. Christopher Salcido said.

Center officials said the exposure happened when employees noticed a strange odor coming from a cap that was being worn by one of the dentists. "The one dentist put one on her head, she was exposed to it, she could smell it, other people could smell it once she had that cap on," Indian Health Center CEO Sonya Tetnowski said.

Upon investigation, employees discovered that a one-ounce bottle of the chemical had somehow been knocked over on to a set of caps that are kept inside the same cabinet.

Staff members immediately called 911 and executed the center's evacuation plan.

Patients and employees complained of issues with breathing, as well as irritated skin.

But late Wednesday afternoon, the San Jose Fire Department confirmed that none of the injuries were life-threatening. "This large incident is precautionary, it is so that we don't have that secondary exposure to hospitals, or any other people out there," Salcido said.

Hazmat crews spent much of the day re-assessing and decontaminating the building.

The center hopes to be back open by 8 a.m. on Wednesday.

The facility, which opened in 1994, provides medical and dental services, according to the center's website.

Bay City News contributed to this story.