Monday, April 12, 2004

Newlyweds Takashi and Yuriko Ide returned to the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel yesterday just after the Honolulu Fire Department pronounced the hotel safe to re-enter.

Fumes force
evacuation of

Four people are taken to the
hospital after leaking acid closes
a Sheraton Waikiki wing

Muriatic acid leaked through a floor and into a stairwell at a Sheraton Waikiki Hotel wing yesterday afternoon, releasing noxious fumes that sent four people to Straub Clinic & Hospital complaining of throat and eye irritation, nausea and chest congestion.

Those four -- two Mid-Pacific Institute students who live at the hotel, a Sheraton employee and a security guard -- were treated and released.

The fumes also caused an evacuation of the building, which has seven floors and 58 rooms.

The Sheraton's Manor wing has been used since November as a dormitory for about 30 Mid-Pacific students.

The wing was reopened at 4 p.m., three hours after being shut down. Tourists with rooms in the building returned.

The wing's students stayed in the Sheraton Waikiki's main tower for the night to give their parents peace of mind, said B.J. Whitman, a spokeswoman for Sheraton's Waikiki hotels.

"We moved the children," she said, but "the wing has been cleared" by the Fire Department.

As a precaution, an air quality specialist will test the building this morning. The storage room remained sealed off last night and was expected to be reopened today.

The incident was just two days after a chemical odor permeated Straub's Pearlridge clinic, sending 22 people to nearby hospitals. The source of those fumes was never identified.

Whitman said the industrial-strength muriatic acid leaked from a storage room on the wing's eighth floor. The acid's 5-gallon plastic container had a small hole in its base, said Honolulu Fire Department spokesman Kenison Tejada.

The hotel uses the substance, also known as hydrochloric acid, to clean rust and corrosion from pipes.

"They use it for cleaning," Tejada said. "It can be bad if it's in a strong concentration."

It is unclear how much acid leaked through the storage room floor and into the stairwell on the sixth and seventh floors. But the acid's container was empty once firefighters got to the scene about 1 p.m.

Firefighters also found some of the acid on pipes in the stairwell.

An employee noticed the acid leak at about 12:45 p.m. yesterday, thought it was water and prepared to clean it up.

But minutes after the worker saw the spill, several hotel employees and a student in the wing told management about a chemical odor.

Within 15 minutes the wing had been evacuated and the Fire Department was called.

"The folks on duty at the time took the appropriate action to get the kids out of there," Mid-Pac President Joe Rice said last night. "The hotel did all the right things right off."

Mid-Pac students and officials at the scene declined to comment yesterday.

Whitman said the hotel had no other stores of muriatic acid in the wing. She also believed the leak to be a first.

"Things happen," Rice said. "It's just a matter of whether you're prepared for them."


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