OAKLAND -- The Alameda County Coroner's Office was evacuated for more than an hour Wednesday after 15 people were sickened following the opening of a body bag with a badly-decomposed corpse.
At least one employee of the office was taken to the hospital, fire officials said, with an unspecified ailment. None of those affected was seriously injured, fire officials said.
Just before noon, emergency crews were dispatched to the office at 480 Fourth St. in downtown Oakland after a deputy coroner unzipped a bag containing a badly decomposed body and immediately had an adverse reaction, Battalion Chief Emon Usher said.
Crews evacuated the building, set up a hazmat triage and evaluated the 15 patients suffering from complaints, including irritation to their eyes and throat.
The corpse belonged to a man in his 70s and was found on July 16 in his Berkeley garage in an advanced state of decomposition, Sheriff's Office Sgt. Ray Kelly said. The circumstances of his death were under investigation, he said.
When the deputy coroner picked up the body from a local mortuary, it had a strong, chemical odor and was covered with a powdery, deodorizing substance because it was so badly decomposed.
"When the deputy unzipped the bag he inhaled some type of toxic vapors," Kelly said. "The fumes got into his lungs and caused irritation, and then the vapors spread throughout the morgue."
Sheriff's and fire officials are investigating whether the chemical odor on the body came from the mortuary or from where the man died.
The hazmat team evaluated the deodorizer and determined it did not pose a health hazard.
After they also evaluated the air, checked the corpse and inspected the body bag, they allowed employees to return to work about 1:25 p.m.
Contact Natalie Neysa Alund at 510-293-2469. Follow her at Twitter.com/nataliealund.