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Two Chemical Events, Two Deaths. Many Lessons

Two recent chemical events have claimed two lives and provided some valuable lessons to be learned or reinforced. First, an man in his 30's died hours after ingesting some type of hazardous substance. As if that is not bad enough...twenty-four people at the clinic where he had gone for treatment were either deconed or quarantined.  Buest guess at this point is that the man ingested selenomthionine in the industrial environment he worked in. It is not known if the ingestion was an accident or not. The article interchanges ingestion and inhalation...we know the route of absorption is important...but is unclear in the new article.  The victim came home from work, changed clothes, and went to an InstaCare clinic (walk-in health care/urgent care). As a result, the clinic was shut down for twenty-four hours with eight people undergoing decontamination on site...none complained of illness. In this case decon seems to have been more pro-active.

In another, unrelated event, a fire department in Iowa responded to a "person not breathing" call at Mercy Medical Center to find that what seemed to be a routine event was actually a hazardous materials event. Sodium Hydroxide...a laundry additive...was leaking. Responders began working on the victim then noticed the leak. Four other civilians who were in the area and several firefighters were evaluated in the emergency department as a result. It is not clear if the leak caused the victims death.

Lessons Learned and Reinforced:
  1. Response to medical facilities, including walk-in or urgent care centers, can not be taken lightly or considered to be routine. The additional hazards associated with these locations have to be considered in preincident planning and responders must size-up with a high level of suspicion. 
  2. The need for decon may exist wherever people go for help. Many emergency departments have some form of decontamination equipment or facility...few, if any walk-in care/urgent care centers have decon equipment or the trained people to carry out the activity. Expect this type of situation to occur more frequently. 
  3. Understand the logistics behind the confinement or "quarantine" of otherwise well civilians...those who do not have any symptoms, yet give you reason to believe they may have exposure. This group to can be difficult to manage as compared to those who actually have symptoms.

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