TEASDALE — The Wayne County clinic in Bicknell was temporarily closed due to a HAZMAT situation, according to Kassidee Brown, Wayne County public information officer.
The incident began Sunday at approximately 7:45 p.m. when George Coombs, 70, Teasdale, was exposed to an industrial pesticide material — Fumitoxin or aluminum phosphide. Coombs was transported to Wayne Community Health Center in Bicknell via ambulance.
Coombs later died as a result of the exposure to the chemical pesticide.
“Out of an abundance of caution, responders and medical personnel were transported to other medical facilities for evaluation,” Brown said.
Due to the nature of the toxin, Coombs’ body and the clinic were treated as if they were both contaminated, as well as those who arrived to help him.
In all, 12 people were hospitalized in Richfield and Gunnison due to the incident. They were watched and evaluated for symptoms of exposure for 24 hours, said Sevier County Sheriff Nate Curtis. The patients were all decontaminated in Wayne County and again when they reached Sevier Valley Hospital and Gunnison Valley Hospital, Curtis said.
The regional HAZMAT team, based in Sevier County, as well as a Utah National Guard 85th Weapons of Mass Destruction – Civil Support Team, were dispatched to the clinic in Bicknell to decontaminate the facility.
After finding the reading levels for poisonous materials were safe, the National Guard cleared the clinic, which was reopened by approximately 3 p.m., Monday.
“No hazardous readings were found within the building or near the deceased,” Brown said.
The clinic was reopened for business as normal Tuesday morning. Wayne County ambulances were also tested for any hazardous materials before being put back into service.
Medical staff members were also cleared and are all in good health, according to Brown.
“It is unclear how or why pesticide was used,” Brown said. “That is still under investigation.”
A temporary clinic was set up at the Wayne Community Center in Bicknell while the HAZMAT investigation and cleanup was conducted.
“It left them with one EMT and two ambulance drivers,” Curtis said. Sevier County sent over a group of EMTs to help field calls in Wayne County until the affected responders were cleared to return to duty.
“It’s what we do here,” Curtis said. He said sharing of resources is part of the plan for local large-scale emergencies in the region.
The poison was the same as the one that resulted in the death of two girls in Layton in February 2010. In that case a 4-year-old and a 15-month old died after fumes seeped into their home. Their deaths led to increased restrictions on the use of Fumitoxin in schoolyards and residential areas.
“I was so impressed by how Wayne County’s emergency services responded to this,” said Mike Grimlie, public information officer for the Central Utah Public Health Department. He said when responders arrived on scene; they initially thought they were dealing with some type of overdose.
It wasn’t until after Coombs was transported to the clinic in Bicknell that it became apparent what they were dealing with. The chemical agent is designed to react with water to create a toxic gas, and it was reacting with Coombs’ body.
“Fifty parts per million is considered to be a lethal dose,” Grimilie said. He said emergency personnel used extreme caution in dealing with the situation and making sure facilities were safe for the public once the crisis ended.
“Only the National Guard had the equipment that was needed,” Grimilie said. He said it’s important to always be careful when dealing with pesticides and other poisons and to always follow the label instructions.