A hazmat scare at the Saint Raphael Campus of Yale-New Haven Hospital on Chapel Street has been cleared and turned over to both local and state police for investigation.
Here’s what happened, according to Assistant Fire Chief Mark Vendetto and Assistant Police Chief Racheal Cain. The two held a press conference outside of the hospital’s George Street Garage at 11:40 on Saturday morning.
At 7:55 a.m. Saturday, the New Haven Fire Department responded to a call from the engineering department at Yale-New Haven Hospital concerning the “possible spill” of a radio isotope “in the room” on the basement floor of Yale-New Haven’s St. Raphael Chapel Street campus. As officers from the fire department headed to the scene, police blocked off Chapel Street between Orchard and Sherman, where the hospital is located.
Pedestrians were asked not to walk on the Chapel or Orchard Street sidewalk near the hospital. The fire department secured a perimiter around the hospital that also included sections of George Street between Orchard and Sherman, where residents were asked to remain on the side of the street opposite the hospital and sections of Greenwood Street were marked off with yellow police tape.
Upon arrival the department began to perform a hazmat assessment. Per protocol, NHFD Officers also called in a team from the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to assist with identification of the substance and determine what cleanup, quarantine and evacuation procedures needed to be put into place. (The floor above was not evacuated, as previously reported.)
At no point were patients evacuated. Emergency medical and dialysis services were diverted to Yale-New Haven Hospital’s central campus and other dialysis centers throughout the city.
On the scene, the Fire Department set up a “decon,” or decontamination area, for seven hospital personnel who had been in the room. All seven personnel, members of the engineering department, were metered by a radiological portal; readings returned as zero for each of them. They disposed of their clothes in a private tent and were re-metered. The department determined that contamination readings were still zero at that time.
Having been evaluated by firefighters, the seven personnel were then cleared. The isotope was later determined to be Technetium-99m, a medical-grade isotope that is injected into patients. It has “a very short shelf life,” Vendetto said.
The cause of the spill has yet to be determined, but local and state police are investigating a burglary that may be the cause. As of 11:50 Saturday morning, Cain said that local officers would be “going in to process” the scene after the fire department had left. She said that it appeared the burglar had broken in for an air conditioner “or other household items.”
“This criminal investigation is just beginning, so there’s not much more that I can say,” she said. “We do not know what was taken at this point but it does not appear to be any chemicals from the scene.”
“Everything has been contained so there is no public health threat at all,” said Vendetto. As of around noon, Vendetto said the hospital was “back up and fully functioning” for patients and staff.
At the scene on George Street, Dwight Alder Frank Douglass said he was “grateful the fire department secured the perimeter so quickly.” He added that he was happy no one had been hurt.