Alfredo Sauce Mix Causes Evacuation of Calif. ER


David Haldane | | Monday, May 5, 2008

ORANGE, Calif. -- The ambulance entrance to the emergency room at St. Josephs Hospital in Orange was closed for nearly five hours Friday after a woman walked in with a bag containing an unknown material that was believed to have made her and a police officer sick.

It turned out to be Alfredo sauce mix and an empty herbal vitamin package with some residue inside. But that was enough to attract FBI agents and the county's health department and emergency medical services agency, as well as a hazardous-materials team and dozens of police, fire and sheriff's personnel, who shut off the ventilation system and isolated the 10-bed emergency wing.

"We had a situation where an unknown lady who was not feeling well walked into an emergency room with an unknown substance and then exposed an officer who also wasn't feeling well," said Ian MacDonald, a spokesman for the Orange Fire Department. "All of the red flags were there."

Both victims, whose names were not released, were treated by hospital personnel, who later reported them to be in "stable and excellent" condition and "feeling fine," said Fire Department spokesman Norm Glastetter.

"It's unclear why the officer was at the emergency room," he said, "but when some of the bag's contents spilled on the floor, he was exposed and immediately felt ill."

As the two were being treated, Glastetter said, nearly 100 hospital staff members and patients were kept in place while the Fire Department's hazmat team attempted to identify the unknown material. Though ambulance entries were restricted, he said, patients were still allowed to walk in for emergency-room treatment through the east entrance to the hospital in the 1100 block of West Stewart Drive.

The woman took the mysterious bag into the hospital about 1:15 p.m., Glastetter said. Its contents were initially identified as vitamins which turned out to be partially true but until the substance was fully verified, Glastetter said, "they felt it was safer to keep [staffers and patients] where they were."

The hospital reopened to ambulances just before 6 p.m.

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