Mysterious fumes send 3 to hospital, close Bay Street in downtown Beaufort

emoody@beaufortgazette.comMarch 13, 2013 

Mysterious fumes sent three people to the hospital and closed Bay Street in downtown Beaufort for two hours Wednesday morning.

Authorities searched the area and tested the air and believe the source was a beaker of chemicals used on jewelry.

The beaker was removed from Modern Jewelers, and the business was aired out. Three employees were taken to Beaufort Memorial Hospital with respiratory problems.

They were treated and released, and owner Kevin Cuppia said they were well Wednesday afternoon.

Cuppia said it would be odd if the chemicals -- used for rhodium plating -- were the source because they are used daily and have never caused problems before.

The problem was reported at 9:40 a.m. Beaufort Fire Chief Sammy Negron said the fire department was first called to a possible structure fire at the store at 807 Bay St.

There was no fire, but when firefighters arrived, they were told of a strange odor in the building. Modern Jewelers employees had already evacuated, and several were coughing and said they felt nauseated. The store was not open at the time.

Negron said firefighters did not smell anything foul when they entered the business, but some of them began to cough. They evacuated the building and other buildings around the store, and the street was closed between Scott and Charles streets while authorities searched for the source.

"They were really very thorough, checking for gas leaks and using equipment to check the air quality," Cuppia said in a news release. "The bottom line is, our three employees are all fine, the store is open again and Bay Street is back to business, thanks to the good work of our emergency responders."

The Beaufort Fire Department, Beaufort Police Department, Beaufort County EMS and Beaufort County Hazardous Materials team responded to the incident.

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