More than 30 people were treated in hospital after a bank worker sparked panic - with a squirt of perfume. Firefighters and ambulances were called to the Bank of America branch in Fort Worth, Texas, fearing a carbon monoxide leak after two staff members reported feeling sick and dizzy.
A total of 12 people were taken to hospital while 22 others made their own way there and a further 110 were treated at the scene as the bank's management broadcast an alert to nearly 2,000 staff warning them to leave the building if they felt ill. But it then emerged that rather than a gas leak the reason for the chaos was a simple squirt of perfume, the brand of which has not been revealed.
Lt Kent Worley of Fort Worth Fire Department said: "Two employees reported some dizziness in close association with someone spraying on some perfume." He said that when the two reported being dizzy to a supervisor, "an announcement was made over the building's PA system saying that anyone feeling these symptoms should exit the building to an outside location."
Subsequently, he said, many people left the building, but many others continued working "with no ill effect." "We called a [hazardous materials] unit to the scene but they didn't detect anything on their air monitoring unit," he said."
That air monitoring unit can detect carbon monoxide and several other chemicals and products that can be in the air. But they found nothing that would have caused people to get sick." Lt Worley suggested the situation escalated because of 'psychosomatic behaviour', or what medical experts often refer to as 'contagious fear'.
Mary Lynn Crow, a clinical psychologist at the University of Texas, said: "Your thinking can actually cause you to feel pain or discomfort. Fear is one of the most contagious emotions there is. When you say to people, 'Hey, there is a contaminant in the building and it is making people sick,' then it easy for them to feel accordingly."