Xylene spill in lab briefly shuts Pen Bay hospital

Posted Oct. 28, 2008, at 9:54 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:03 a.m.

ROCKPORT, Maine — A chemical spill in a Penobscot Bay Medical Center laboratory resulted in the evacuation and brief shutdown of the lab at noon Tuesday.

PBMC director of marketing and communications Chris Burke said about 1 quart of xylene spilled from a piece of equipment used in analysis procedures at 11:40 a.m. Xylene is a hydrocarbon used as a solvent.

Burke said hospital policy requires that any chemical spill larger than a quart be considered a major spill. Accordingly, the five people working in the lab at the time followed standard procedure and shut the facility down, sealed the room, cut off the air handling system and evacuated the area. Of the five people in the lab who were briefly exposed, two sought emergency room treatment as a precaution, Burke said.

According to toxipedia.org, low levels of exposure to xylene have no known health effects in humans. High levels of exposure for short or long periods, however, can cause headaches, lack of muscle coordination, dizziness, confusion and changes in sense of balance.

Burke said the Rockport Fire and Police departments were notified immediately and the material was recovered and removed from the lab. The lab was reopened within an hour.

“We are in the process of analyzing the incident,” Burke said Tuesday afternoon. “People were back in there working within an hour.”

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