When staffers at the Alameda County Coroner's bureau fell ill Wednesday, the building was evacuated and a hazardous materials team was called to the scene. However, neither toxins or chemicals were to blame for the sickness — just a badly decomposed body.
At around noon on July 23, the Oakland Fire department was called to the coroner's bureau after staffers were "overcome" when they opened up a body bag from a local funeral home, Battalion Chief Emon Usher says.
Fifteen people reported that they suffered from nose and throat irritation after exposure to the deceased, who had been a mechanic and was apparently working on a car in his garage when he passed away. His partially decomposed body was found there some time later, was sent to a funeral home, and then to the coroner’s bureau for an autopsy, Usher says.
When workers opened up the body bag, an "extremely foul odor" was released, Usher said, sickening the surrounding staff.
Fearing that the former mechanic had been carrying chemicals when he passed, hazmat crews evaluated the man's body and the inside of the bag, but no toxins were found.
According to Usher, due to the condition of the body, the funeral home had already applied a sunstance called “Smelleze Eco Corpse Deodorizer Powder" (pictured above) to the deceased. It, too, was tested but was determined to be non-toxic.
Usher says that the hazmat crews also tested the inside of the autopsy room, but found no toxic substances. That left just one possibility, the deteriorating body, itself.
Medics checked out the fifteen sickened employees and took one to the hospital, Usher said. The building was reopened by about 1:30 p.m.