Odor from a city sewer project drifted through pipes and into a branch of St. Anthony's Hospital on Thursday morning, forcing employees and rehabilitation patients to evacuate the building for several hours, authorities said.
The St. Petersburg Fire Rescue hazardous materials team arrived at the fourth floor of the St. Anthony's Hospital Resource Center at 9 a.m. after a foul smell was reported and a hospital employee had trouble breathing, said Lt. Chris Bengivengo. About 40 people were evacuated from the building at 500 Dr. M.L. King (Ninth) St. N, which houses an adult day care for senior citizens and a patient rehabilitation center, as well as several hospital employees' offices.
Hazmat originally thought the odor came from a ventilation problem within the hospital, Bengivengo said. Firefighters thought chlorine fumes from a rehabilitation pool were pushed onto the fourth floor, but Lt. Ron Kidwell of St. Petersburg Fire Rescue was not satisfied with that explanation.
Kidwell walked north on King Street and talked to several city employees, who since 4 a.m. Thursday had applied adhesive to seal a nearby sewer pipe, Bengivengo said. The smell of the adhesive matched the smell in the hospital.
Lane Longley, division manager of St. Petersburg Wastewater Collection systems, said the odor was probably created during a pipe cleaning.
In cleaning the pipe, a contractor plugged it and let sewer water back up, which could have caused the odor, Longley said. The cleaning also could have stirred up debris, another possible cause.
Hospital spokeswoman Lisa Patterson said the 40 people who were evacuated returned to the building at 1:30 p.m. The employee who was having trouble breathing, whom Patterson declined to name, was treated at the hospital.
Thursday's incident was the second time in a week that Hazmat has visited St. Anthony's and closed a part of the facility.
Last Friday, a man who said he was sick after he handled a chemical walked into the emergency room, which Hazmat closed for an hour to avoid possible toxic contamination.