SAN FRANCISCO (BCN)
San Francisco firefighters are still searching for the source of an irritating substance that caused breathing problems in more than 30 people and triggered the evacuation of a city building Friday afternoon.
The building at 1 South Van Ness Ave., which houses San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s headquarters and other city offices, was evacuated at 3:07 p.m. after occupants reported breathing some sort of irritating substance, fire department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said.
Fire officials identified at least 34 people who showed symptoms of being exposed to a mild respiratory irritant, but as of late this afternoon no one had been hospitalized, Talmadge said.
One woman, Sylvie Elliott, was turning in paperwork for a residential parking permit at the SFMTA office when she said she felt a burning in her throat. She said it was hard to breathe and felt like there was pepper irritating her throat.
Elliott was evaluated in the back of an ambulance parked outside the building and afterward, she was told to wait near several ambulances on Market Street near South Van Ness Avenue while wearing a gray blanket.
At least seven others were being taken into the back of ambulances to be examined by medical crews around 4 p.m.
Firefighters and hazardous materials teams searched the building twice for the source of the irritant and were checking again after turning the building’s ventilation system back on, Talmadge said.
She said most of the patients appeared to come from one area of the building but so far officials have been unable to locate or identify the source of the irritant.
The high-rise holds a large number of people and the evacuation produced a large crowd on the street, with most huddled on the west side of South Van Ness Avenue in front of the Honda car dealership.
Police tape blocked off South Van Ness between Market and Mission streets, and nearby sidewalks were also cordoned off.
“I would avoid Market and South Van Ness right now if I were you,” Talmadge said.
SFMTA spokeswoman Kristen Holland said a building alarm went off around 3:10 p.m. and she and others were evacuated out of the building, but she did not know the source of the alarm.
Holland said Muni was rerouting the northbound 47-Van Ness and 49-Mission/Van Ness buses around the incident, detouring them from Mission Street to Ninth Street to Market Street.
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