Cleaning solvent blamed for making 23 ill at casino
Stacia Glenn, Staff Writer 05/19/2010
A cleaning solvent was the culprit that caused hysteria among 23 San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino employees who reported feeling dizzy and nauseated last month, authorities said.
After determining that the mysterious odor that invaded a cash-counting room April 28 was not hazardous, fire and health officials set about retracing the employees' steps in the hours before they reported feeling ill.
They discovered that employees were doing routine cleaning, using compressed air cans with high-powered sprays.
"The manufacturer had added a new chemical for the taste so kids wouldn't abuse the stuff," said San Manuel Fire Chief Michael Smith. "When (employees) tasted something unusual, it was cause for warning."
The employees were sent to Loma Linda University Medical Center as a precaution but none exhibited signs of serious illness, authorities said.
Bitrex, the chemical, is added in products to reduce the risk of accidental poisonings. It is not known to cause any symptoms but emits a faint odor and has a bitter taste.
"Some of (the employees) had worked themselves up a bit," said Battalion Chief Dino Beltz. "There was definitely a psychological effect."
Officials said they have discontinued use of the product.
When the call first came in that employees felt woozy, 18 San Manuel firefighters worked with the San Bernardino Fire Department's hazardous materials team to find the source of the fumes.
They searched three areas of the casino, tested the employees' clothing and checked the chemical formulations of all cleaning supplies, authorities said.
"It was putting all the pieces of the puzzle together," Smith said.
Kenneth Shoji, the tribe's spokesman, lauded the cooperation of the involved agencies and an agreement that enables them to share resources.