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Hospital planning to blow fumes high in sky

SONORA — Officials at Sonora Regional Medical Center hope a new fan will take care of the diesel fumes that have seeped into the hospital off and on since its 2004 opening.

The fumes have forced four nurses into medical leave but have not caused health problems for patients, Doug Duffield, vice president of business planning and marketing at the Greenley Road hospital, said Thursday. He did not have details about the nurses' status.

Duffield said the problem tends to happen during very cold weather, when exhaust from the hospital boilers hangs in the air and is sucked into the ventilation system.

An environmental health consultant tested the indoor air for 23 diesel components, and none exceeded state standards, he said.

The fumes occasionally have entered the birth center and part of the medical-surgical floor, Duffield said. The birth center was relocated for a while earlier this year but was restored to its usual place after testing determined that the air was safe, he said. The problem has not affected operating rooms, he said.

The hospital has installed filters on the ventilation system and increased the fuel efficiency of the boilers. The last step will be the installation in May of a fan that will blow the exhaust high into "the prevailing winds" over Sonora, Duffield said.

"Making sure that the staff and patients are not at risk was our first priority," he said.

The 152-bed hospital, the largest private employer in Tuolumne County, was built by Adventist Health. It replaced Sonora Community Hospital, on the west side of town.

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