Mystery odor forces hospital to cancel surgeries for month

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COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) The surgical facilities at the Fanny Allen Hospital in Colchester will remain closed for the rest of the month. The operating rooms were shut down after employees said they got sick from a mystery smell. It happened in October, too. Our Ike Bendavid was the only reporter was inside the hospital on Wednesday while the state's hazmat team investigated.

We still don't know what's causing the mystery smell. We do know it is just located in the OR at Fanny Allen. Hospital officials say they are closing down for the rest of the month to figure what the odor is.

Now, what should be a busy hospital filled with patients in beds is empty in the middle of the week.

"I would say a person in a role like mine is very worried. When you have an event occur that interrupts patient care-- that's concerning," said Dawn Lebaron, the vice president of hospital services at the UVM Medical Center.

A mystery smell shut down the surgical facilities at Fanny Allen.

It first happened in October when 17 people reported symptoms. It happened again last week, sending seven people to urgent care feeling dizzy, lightheaded and nauseous.

UVM Medical Center officials say they don't know what the issue is.

"At this point, we have come up with no answers," Lebaron said.

State hazmat teams were invited in on Wednesday to help with the investigation. Lebaron says even though the room we were standing in was empty, crews say it's safe to be in, which is a step forward.

"I'm confident that we... that I am standing in a very safe space right now and that I am here and feeling very good about being here," Lebaron said.

But the cause is still unknown. Lebaron says they also invited other outside sources like VOSHA and the health department to assist the hazmat team in the investigation.

"They have done their due diligence, it's just another pair of eyes for the potential source of what's going on," said Todd Cosgrove, the chief of the Vermont Hazardous Materials Response Team.

The hazmat team could be seen Wednesday monitoring the area of the hospital where the complaints come from. Hospital officials say readings are at normal levels and that's why they are in the white suits and not full protection.

"We are just monitoring the ambient air in the rooms themselves and looking at any readings we may receive," Cosgrove explained.

The hospital says they typically have 15-20 surgeries scheduled at Fanny Allen each day, meaning with a month of being closed, that's hundreds of surgeries that need to be moved or rescheduled. They say it's in the best interest of the patients and employees.

"We are hoping that the time allows us a little more time to further investigate," Lebaron said.

The hospital says the surgeries will likely be moved the main campus at the UVM Medical Center. They say if you were scheduled for surgery, they will be reaching out to you. And any patients with questions or concerns about a scheduled surgery should contact their surgeon's office for assistance.

So what does the odor smell like? Some employees have compared the smell to exhaust, fuel and bacon.