Faulty pump exposes hopital lab workers to toxic chemicals

A hazardous material spill Wednesday at Harrison Hospital in Bremerton caused the lab to close for nearly four hours and the decontamination of 10 employees.

The cause of the contamination was blamed on a malfunctioning heating unit pump which overheated a container of CitriSolv that the lab typically uses as a de-clearing agent for processing blood. The product’s name stems from the strong smell of citrus that it releases.

Ten workers in the lab were exposed to the fumes and began experiencing common symptoms associated with chemical exposure, including nausea, itchy skin and red and itchy eyes. All were treated in the hazardous materials unit of the emergency room. As a precaution all 10 employees had to shower and were treated in a timely manner.

“(The malfunction) of equipment was not something we were able to prevent; all protocols and procedures were in place,” said Patti Hart, Harrison spokeswoman. “The good news is that everyone is well-schooled in response and everyone responded very quickly.”

To make sure that no patients waited unnecessarily, additional staff were brought into the ER to help patients. And because the lab could not be used for three-and-a-half hours, a room was designated for lab employees to meet and take urgent blood samples that were then taken to Harrison Silverdale.

“We didn’t want to disrupt service to patients because the lab wasn’t functioning for a few hours,” Hart said.

A hazmat team from Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Bremerton Fire Department responded to the scene. The spill was quickly cleaned up, but the lab had to remain closed for a few hours to clear the fumes out.

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