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Fumes force workers out for fresh air

Published Sep. 26, 2005

Dozens of city employees were evacuated from the city's Municipal Services Center on Wednesday morning after several suffered headaches and nausea from fumes from construction just outside the building.

Fifteen people, including one customer there to pay a bill, were treated by paramedics outside the building, at Central Avenue and Fourth Street, while city officials took air samples inside. Though many of them were clearly shaken, the employees were fine after a few minutes of fresh air.

"I'm okay now, but I had a headache and I was slightly nauseous," said Virginia Rose, who works on the first floor in the utility bill collections department where most of the problems occurred. "It smelled like gas, like you sat behind a bus for a while breathing the fumes."

Supervisor Pat Olsen said the cashiers who work in a somewhat enclosed area just inside the door nearest the construction were hardest hit. Employees noticed the foul smell about 8:30 a.m., and by 10, many of the first-floor employees were headed outside to escape the smell. Olsen said one cashier vomitted, and a couple more went to the hospital to get checked out.

St. Petersburg Fire Lt. Chris Bengivengo said the fumes apparently came from some of the equipment used to tear up the tree planters being removed along Central Avenue. City workers are using jackhammers, gas-powered saws and diesel operated compressors as they remove the tree planters and then replant the live oak trees that line the street. Oddly, the same kind of work on the other side of Central caused no problems last year.

The city plans to finish the construction work along Central Avenue during weekends.