Hazmat team neutralizes Brewer spill

Posted Feb. 02, 2009, at 8:43 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11:07 a.m.

BREWER, Maine — The Orono-Old Town Hazardous Materials Team rushed to Twin City Plaza on Sunday after hearing that two people had exposed themselves to a chemical called Phenol, which they had spilled while cleaning.

The local hazmat team met with Brewer firefighters and an incident command team from Bangor, and the partners worked together to neutralize the situation, said Brewer Fire Department Capt. Gary Parent, who is the city’s deputy emergency management director.

“It was a hazmat event because we did have two people injured,” he said, adding the incident also was used as training. “The four entities involved, we don’t often get to work together. That was the training part of it.”

The spill occurred at Eastern Maine Medical Center Family Medicine in Brewer just after 1 p.m. when approximately 5 ounces of the chemical spilled on the facility’s carpet.

“There were two injured … the persons that spilled the stuff,” Parent said. “They were both treated and released.”

One of the cleaners reported a skin burn from the Phenol and the other complained of respiratory problems.

Irritation to the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes is common for those who inhale or who touch skin to the chemical, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site states. “Phenol is considered to be quite toxic to humans via oral exposure,” it says.

The chemical is used as a disinfectant and cauterizing agent and can be found in ear and nose drops, throat lozenges, mouthwashes and ointments, the EPA says.

Dr. William Sturrock, who works at EMMC, said Phenol is “widely used by all physicians and podiatrists” and is especially useful for ingrown toenails. He said the chemical is usually stored in airtight containers and reportedly was knocked over when a cleaning woman was dusting it.

After the team of emergency responders secured the area, they set up a decontamination tent before entering the building.

“An atmospheric check was done with a monitoring unit,” Parent said. “They determined there was no atmospheric hazards … and that it was inert. They used vermiculite” to neutralize it. “It burned through the carpet.”

The entire event took five hours and included between 20 and 25 personnel, he said.

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