Unknown Substance Forces Hospital Closure

Worries over an unknown substance forced the emergency lockdown of two hospitals near St. Louis, Missouri.

Hospital officials say patients entered complaining of exposure to a mysterious powder. Hazardous material teams began decontamination of the patients and dozens of people quarantined after coming in contact with the patients.

“Several patients came to St. Anthony’s Emergency Department from a site in East St. Louis, Illinois with an unknown chemical exposure,” wrote St. Anthony’s Medical Center spokeswoman Mary Jo Wich in a statement on the hospital’s website.

“As a precaution for our patients, visitors and employees, access to the entire hospital campus initially was restricted,” she said.

Wich said restrictions on the hospital’s non-emergency areas were later lifted. However, the emergency department “will remain closed until the nature and extent of the exposure is determined.”

Mehlville Fire Protection chief Jim Silvernail said the powder was believed to be a hazardous material.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch reported it caused respiratory problems among those exposed.

Jamie Newell, a spokeswoman for SSM DePaul Health Center in Bridgeton, Missouri near St. Louis, said three men who “came in contact with a dangerous substance” were admitted to the facility Saturday afternoon.

Newell noted the emergency department was put on lockdown shortly thereafter. The men were in fair condition and recovering, she said.

“Fifteen employees and one patient had to be decontaminated as a precaution… but we don’t believe that anybody else has been harmed,” said Newell.

She said officials had identified the substance, and it was not viral — meaning a widespread airborne contamination was not likely.

Local NBC television station KMOV reported that two patients were in critical condition at SSM DePaul Health Center. However, Newell denied the report.

KMOV also reported that the cases were likely linked to people who were exposed to a substance while rooting through a dumpster in East St. Louis.

Announcement of the exposures emerged as Republican presidential hopeful John McCain was preparing to fly to St. Louis. He had a rally scheduled on Sunday in nearby O’Fallon, Missouri, but there was no change in plans.

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