The Thorlakson Building at the Health Sciences Centre complex was evacuated, including about 500 people, at about 1:30 p.m. today due to a chemical spill inadvertently caused when the main feeder tube in a laboratory area was accidently broken.
Emergency crews, including the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service’s hazardous materials unit, were called to the building at 820 Sherbrook St. around 1:30 p.m.
There were no injuries, however a construction worker was briefly exposed to the chemical but was decontaminated by showering down, examined and released.
The Thorlakson building, also called the MS building, has eight floors including three floors of laboratory space.
Officials, speaking at a late afternoon press conference, said the construction worker may have leaned on the pipe which subsequently broke. It leaked about 50 gallons of formalin, a chemical used in the labs to preserve and fix tissues for pathology.
WFPS platoon chief Ted Kuryluk said the building was expected to be closed for a few hours, possibly overnight, while fire crews clean up the spill and the area is restored.
"Formalin is a very caustic and flammable and cohesive chemical," said Kuryluk. "We are currently monitoring the air quality levels on the floor above and below. We will be placing some absorbent prospect on the spill. We will be containing it and the product will be disposed of."
Dana Erickson, the chief operating officer for the Health Sciences Centre, said five adult elective surgeries scheduled for today and six angiography cases scheculed for tomorrow were cancelled and will all be rescheduled as soon as possible. He said no children's surgeries were cancelled.
"The emergency department has been impacted somewhat because of the interruption to lab services and as a result, waits might be a little longer in our adult and children's emergency departments. We've temporarily redirected ambulance services," Erickson said.
Contingency plans for emergency lab testing are in place to use network of labs in other local locations and ambulances were being rerouted during the evening.
He said eight patients were moved out of the building - four were sent home, two were moved to beds in another area of the hospital and two remained in recovery. He said six babies were moved to a nursery in the women's Hospital.
Jim Slater, the chief executive officer for Diagnostic Services Manitoba, said the formalin used in the building's laboratories is a 10 per cent concentration, buffered and diluted, which carries less risk of being flammable than in a higher concentration.
He said contingency plans are in place for emergency lab testing in other local labs during the clean-up.
Several roadways in the area were closed, causing numerous traffic tie-ups but roads were re-opened about four hours after the incident occurred.