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Tenn. ER shut down in scare over white powder

A FedEx employee exposed to a white powder started vomiting and went to the ER; hazmat teams shut down the ER to begin decontamination, but it turned out to be nontoxic

By Samantha Bryson
The Commercial Appeal

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A FedEx employee exposed to a white powder on the job prompted the shutdown and decontamination of the emergency room at Methodist University Hospital Sunday night, according a Memphis Fire Department spokesman.

The 42-year-old woman went home after her shift and showered, but drove herself to the emergency room after she started experiencing breathing problems and vomiting.

Her name was not released.

Late Sunday night, the substance was determined to be a nontoxic food additive, and the woman was scheduled to be released from the hospital, according to fire department spokesman Lt. Wayne Cooke.

Hospital authorities alerted the fire department at 6:45 p.m., prompting hazmat units to shut down the emergency room in the Medical Center area and begin decontamination procedures.

Until just before 10 p.m., Cooke said all tests performed on the substance had continued to come back “inconclusive or negative.”

Although he could not identify the type of food additive the employee was exposed to, he confirmed that “it was not hazardous in any way.”

Memphis fire trucks had many of the streets behind the hospital building blocked off, although some of the hospital employees were being allowed to leave the building by 8 p.m.

All of the patients and hospital employees who may had been exposed to the substance were evaluated and cleared, according to Methodist spokesman Jeffrey Moder.

A small portion of the emergency room was still closed Sunday night, he added.

Corie McKinney, who works in the medical records department just behind the emergency room, had almost managed to leave work at 6 p.m. when she was given a surgical mask and told to go back inside.

“Nobody was able to come in at that point, nobody was able to go out,” she said.

McKinney said she saw decontamination showers set up in the emergency room, and almost stepped in some of the liquid from the showers.

“I’ve never stepped into a situation like that before,” she said, adding that she didn’t mind being held indoors for two hours since she couldn’t be sure of the dangers.

“Better to be safe than sorry,” she said.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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