Painting has been halted at the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal after fumes from the project forced the evacuation of an adjacent building, sickening some occupants and sending four to the hospital.
A cloud of toxic fumes produced a stench shortly after 11 a.m. Thursday (Nov. 3) that caused vomiting, light-headedness and other symptoms among some occupants of the 10-story McGraw-Hill building on 42nd Street, next door to the Port Authority facility, the world’s largest and busiest bus terminal.
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|Fumes were sucked into the McGraw-Hill building ventilation system during exterior painting at the Port Authority Bus Terminal.|
Four people were taken to Bellevue Hospital with breathing problems, authorities said.
The painting contractor on the project—VRH Construction Corp., of Englewood, NJ—declined to discuss the issue Friday.
Some building occupants reported smelling fumes throughout the week, but the problem escalated abruptly when an apparent breach in the containment system allowed fumes into the air intake valves of the McGraw-Hill building, Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said Friday (Nov. 4).
“The containment wasn’t 100% sealed,” said Coleman, adding that he did not know what type of containment system was being used on the project.
The breach did not affect the Bus Terminal’s operations or occupants, Coleman said.
The McGraw-Hill building’s approximately 100 occupants were evacuated about 11:15 a.m. while the building was ventilated. Some occupants returned about an hour later, and others went home, officials said.
The painting work was halted “as soon as we became aware of the problem,” the Port Authority said in a statement. “We followed all safety precautions during the work, and are carefully looking into the matter.”
VRH Construction has a $4.3 million contract to coat the exterior trusses and other metal surfaces at the terminal. The project includes painting all exterior steel and sign grid members, parapet walls, railings and spandrels. The company was the lowest of five bidders for the renovation project.
Coleman said the fumes became a problem only on Thursday, while the contractor was working directly adjacent to the other building. He said the contractor had about four hours’ of painting in that section and would complete the work on a weekend or after hours, when the adjacent building is unoccupied.
Occupants, however, said the smell had persisted for days.
‘Heavily Noxious Fumes’
Witnesses told reporters that the fumes smelled like nail polish remover and had been there for more than a week.
“The fumes were making some staff ill,” Rosa Mejias, 55, who works on the second floor, told the New York Post. “Some people were vomiting.”
Stan Roth, 60, an optician whose company adjoins the lobby, told the paper: “The heavily noxious fumes have been coming from next door for 10 days. I realize they have to get work done, but it’s not at the right time with these buildings full of people.”
Roth admitted feeling “light-headed” and “a little high” from the fumes.
“People were vomiting right outside my store,” he said.