Article By: Alysha Palumbo & Marc Fortier
Emergency crews responded to a New Hampshire hospital on Friday morning after more than a dozen staff members reported feeling dizzy, nauseous, vomiting & experiencing headaches following an unknown chemical release.
Ambulances from multiple area communities responded to Exeter Hospital around 11 a.m. after a report of some sort of “chemical release” in the emergency room. Aerial footage from the scene showed more than a dozen people in beds set up in a cordoned-off area of the lawn across the parking lot from the hospital.
Exeter Hospital spokeswoman Debra Vasapolli said staff members in the operating room began experiencing symptoms of dizziness & nausea around 8:30 a.m. As that number started to increase, the hospital closed the operating room & began transferring people out. The emergency department above it was also evacuated after staff members began to be affected by the same symptoms. There were 6 patients in the emergency room at the time.
“At this time we still have not been able to identify the cause, but obviously we’re working diligently to do that,” Vasapolli said.
She said approximately 19 staff members were affected. Around 8:30 p.m., the hospital said all symptoms had been resolved. According to the hospital, none of the patients suffered from any symptoms.
Exeter fire officials said they initially received a call for 20 ambulances but not all of them were ultimately needed. 12 staff members were taken to other hospitals. Most are doing well & many have already gone home.
Firefighters have so far been unable to pinpoint the source of the chemical release or identify what it was that affected the staff members. There were initial reports that carbon monoxide might have been the cause but fire officials said test results came back negative.
“We’re looking at cleaning fluids that could have been used in the hospital, obviously, the rumor got out that it’s anesthesia gas, we don’t know that,” Exeter Assistant Fire Chief Eric Wilking said. “We don’t know if there’s a leak, so until the hazmat team has time to monitor w/some far more sophisticated equipment than we had…we may have answers later as to what caused that.”
The emergency room & operating room are closed, but the rest of the hospital is open. They were initially expected to remain closed until the cause of the incident is identified but the hospital now says they would reopen after a thorough cleaning. While the time of reopening is yet to be determined, the hospital says it will likely reopen early Saturday. Exeter Police are recommending that residents seek alternate emergency facilities for treatment.
Crews are going through the operating room & emergency department 1 more time to check for any irritants. If clear, the emergency department will reopen on Saturday morning.