Just another formaldehyde spill: Scare and downtown emergency room evacuationnot that unusual
Half a gallon of formaldehyde spilled at St. Joseph Medical Center around 8 a.m. Monday morning, closing the hospital's emergency room for nearly two hours.
The spill was discovered in a storage closet adjacent to the ER, according to hospital spokesperson Fritz Guthrie. Nearby patients were removed, the area was evacuated within a 150-foot radius and the Houston Fire Department was contacted immediately.
The intersection at La Branch and St. Joseph Parkway was blocked as HFD's hazardous materials team secured the area. The exact cause of the spill remains unknown.
"Formaldehyde spills are pretty common," HFD assistant fire chief Danny Snell told CultureMap, "especially at hospitals and universities."
While the hospital's emergency facility was cleaned by 9 a.m., hazmat officials required an additional hour of ventilation before allowing the ER to reopen at 10 a.m.
Several workers were exposed to the fumes, but no serious injuries were reported.
"Formaldehyde spills are pretty common," HFD assistant fire chief Danny Snell told CultureMap, "especially at hospitals and universities.
"Our team arrived at about 8:06 a.m. to absorb the spill and neutralize it will a variety of detergents. Then we checked the air quality with an instrument that measures down to parts-per-million."
Instantly identifiable to anyone who's taken high school biology, formaldehyde is a colorless and strong-smelling gas typically mixed with water to act as a preservative in laboratories as well as mortuaries. The chemical is listed as a known human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services and also can be found in a number of adhesives used in the building industry.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), acute exposure is irritating to the eyes, nose and throat with longer-term exposure leading to asthma-like respiratory issues. Ingestion is known to cause death in humans.