A swarm of emergency crews swept into the Indian Health Center of Santa Clara Valley Wednesday when one ounce of anti-cavity sealant triggered a report of hazardous "dental materials," fire officials said.
Firefighters confirmed there were patients at the scene, but added later that there were no serious injuries at 1333 Meridian Avenue. A total of 17 people were exposed when cresol, used in dental fillings, spilled onto some dentist hair caps, firefighters said.
"The one dentist put one on her head, she was exposed to it, she could smell it [and] other people could smell it once she had her cap on," said Sonya Tetnowski with the Indian Health Center.
An ounce of cresol is strong enough for people to experience respiratory reactions, she said.
"This is exciting somewhat, but at the same time it's also a little nerve-wracking," nursing assistant Jose Abbott said.
Crews were decontaminating the patients, mostly as a precautionary measure, officials said. Some people complained of coughing and minor skin irritations. Firefighters said seven people went to the hospital to be checked out. The others were OK after they stepped out into the fresh air.
Some employees and patients were also ushered behind a blue tarp for gross decontamination, as it is called, according to officials.
"It is a pretty invasive process, but it's an invasive process that ensures that there's no secondary contamination," said Capt. Christopher Salcido, a spokesman for the San Jose Fire Department.
Firefighters said the public did not have to worry about secondary exposure. Investigators were trying to figure out what happened.
The health center has several clinics and was created to "help ensure the survival and healing of American Indians/Alaskan Natives" and the wider community by providing comprehensive health care and wellness services, according to its website.