Saturday, July 20, 2024

‘No Definitive Answer’: Officials Unable to Identify Substance That Sickened Six People at Ukiah Clinic

Hazmat technician getting prepared at his truck [All photographs provided by Peter Armstrong]

Yesterday evening, Thursday, June 1, 2023, a legion of firemen, medics, and hazardous material specialists converged on Ukiah’s Hospital Drive after multiple people fell ill upon opening an envelope containing what was described as an “unknown substance”.

Crews worked for over five hours analyzing affected Adventist Health Ukiah Valley medical facilities for contamination of any kind trying to figure out what could have caused six people to experience symptoms that included feeling dizzy, lightheaded, and having a scratchy throat.

Despite their extensive work, officials are stumped.

Ukiah Valley Fire Authority Battalion Chief Eric Singleton was the Incident Commander overseeing the entire response. He told us after a rigorous and thorough analysis of the envelope, the documents contained therein, and any area potentially exposed to the “unknown substance”, he had “no definitive answer” as to what the substance was that reportedly left six people with symptoms ranging from dizziness to lightheadedness to throat irritation.

“I don’t like coming up with nothing,” Battalion Chief Singleton said.

Hazmat technicians walking to decontaminate

Battalion Chief Singleton said his agency was dispatched around 4:00 p.m. yesterday afternoon and immediately took steps to isolate the two potentially contaminated suites within Adventist Health medical offices at 260 Hospital Drive and a small area of the hospital’s emergency room where two symptomatic patients had gone after falling ill.

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Hazmat teams combed each office and the emergency room using specialized equipment to find any trace of chemicals, gasses, or bio-hazards that could have caused the six patients to fall ill. 

“We couldn’t really find anything in there”, Battalion Chief Singleton said.

An exhaustive examination of the envelope and documents associated with the first two patients falling ill found no powders, waxy substances, liquids, or any tell-tale signs of contamination whatsoever.

 Hazmat technicians in the process of being decontaminated

After crews searched the envelope, the documents, and the affected facilities for any sign of what might have caused the six patients to fall ill, Battalion Chief Singleton said the Incident Command staff gathered to discuss what might have happened. They concluded the most likely reason their search for the unknown substance came up short was the substance off-gassed before crews arrived 

We asked Battalion Chief Singleton if last night’s illnesses could result from mass psychogenic illness, essentially the spread of illness symptoms without any infectious agent responsible for contagion. A study conducted by the Tennesse Department of Public Health identified common symptoms of these sorts of outbreaks as dizziness or lightheadedness, and sore or burning throat.

Battalion Chief Singleton said he “couldn’t rule it out.”

The envelope and documents it contained were medical records of an Adventist Health patient someone had dropped off at the medical office, Battalion Chief Singleton told us. It was not delivered to the offices by the Post Office and from what officials gathered, they do not believe what occurred to be malicious or some sort of attack. 

We asked if officials were combing security cameras or looking into the patient described in the documents and Battalion Chief Singleton told us he could not comment.

At the end of the incident, Battalion Chief Singleton told us he is “happy and glad there was nothing there” but found it “very frustrating that I cannot give a definitive answer.”

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Hazmat technicians are being helped as they remove suits

Cici Winiger, the Adventist Health Ukiah Valley spokesman, told us that despite the substance being inconclusive, all affected areas of Adventist Health facilities were “decontaminated and cleared.” Out of an abundance of caution, HEPA filters have been installed in all areas.

Ukiah Valley Fire Authority was joined by Hopland Fire, Redwood Valley-Calpella Fire, CALFIRE, and Mendocino County’s hazmat team REHIT. Battalion Chief Singleton called it a “group effort” describing hazmat situations at this scale as “very labor intensive”. First responders must take each step slowly and methodically to maintain the safety of the public and themselves.

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  1. I just heard about this new substance that can make you sick and cannot be detected by any testing done by anyone making it impossible to identify…. it’s called munchausen

  2. Upon hearing the symptoms/side effects they experienced. My initial thought is… Were they were micro-dosed? Shroom spores perhaps?
    I pray that whatever it was, everyone is okay.


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Matt LaFever
Matt LaFeverhttps://mendofever.com/
I have been an Emerald Triangle resident since 2006 and this is year ten in Mendocino County. Please, email me at matthewplafever@gmail.com if you know a story that needs to be told.

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