State and local officials last week said separate incidents in which workers at two California hospitals were overcome with fumes emitting from patients having heart attacks weren't related.
An investigation by the Kern County (Calif.) Environmental Health Department determined that a patient at Mercy Hospital in Bakersfield, Calif., had ingested a common household pesticide called Dursban, which is sold over the counter and is used to kill ants and other insects.
Nineteen emergency-department workers at the 257-bed hospital had to be decontaminated two weeks ago after ammonia-like fumes coming from the Hospital safetyunidentified 44-year-old woman, who was in cardiac arrest, caused them to experience minor dizziness, headaches and breathing difficulties.
A Kern County health official requesting anonymity said the patient likely ingested the pesticide in her home. It's unclear whether it was consumed intentionally, the source said.
Authorities investigating a similar incident that occurred one week earlier at 358-bed Riverside (Calif.) General Hospital said it's unlikely they'll have any clear-cut answers in that case until results of a detailed toxicology and autopsy report on the patient involved are issued later this month.
However, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors last week asked the State Department of Health Services to take over the investigation so it could review the conduct of inspectors from the state's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. County officials said the inspectors delayed the autopsy conducted on the Riverside patient two weeks ago.
In the Riverside incident, six emergency-department workers were sent to nearby hospitals after breathing fumes emitting from a 31-year-old cancer patient who was in the advanced stages of cervical cancer. The patient died of a heart attack.
The coroner's office and several other city, county and state agencies spent two days preparing for an autopsy on the patient. They closed off two narrow streets behind the coroner's office and devised plans to test for contaminants in the patient's casket and on her body while ensuring that potential fumes were filtered and workers protected.
Late last week, the medical condition of Julie Gorchynski, M.D., who was hospitalized after treating the patient at Riverside, was upgraded to good condition and she was removed from intensive care at Loma Linda (Calif.) University Medical Center, said hospital spokesman Richard A. Schaefer.
Sally Balderas, a Riverside nurse injured in the incident, was released from Parkview Community Medical Center in Riverside last week, the hospital said.
Scientists have theorized that the Riverside patient and emergency-department personnel were exposed to a chemical agent in the organophosphate family, highly reactive chemicals used in pesticides and nerve gas.
At Mercy Hospital, no serious injuries were reported among medical personnel. The patient's condition has been upgraded to fair.