What may have caused BNA’s ‘noxious’ chemical odor?

Airport was evacuated Sunday afternoon after the odor was noticed in Concourse C.
WSMV4's Marissa Sulek reports.
Published: Apr. 17, 2023 at 5:55 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Nashville International Airport officials say they are looking into what caused a noxious odor in the C concourse which forced hundreds of people to evacuate Sunday afternoon, a busy travel day for the airport.

BNA says Nashville Fire Department conducted an air test and found Butoxyethanol Acetate to be the chemical people were breathing in. It’s used in wood stains and finishes and can irritate the nose, eyes, and cause headaches. It’s also the reason hundreds of people started to cough uncontrollably in the concourse.

As people evacuated, NFD crews were seen wearing air packs trying to track down the chemical.

“All of a sudden I noticed – it was very strange – I started noticing all these people with their shirts pulled up over their face,” says traveler John Sloop.

He was in the middle of the crowd evacuating Sunday, at one point moving toward the smell.

“I started to get closer to that area and all of a sudden my throat was getting scratchy as heck,” says Sloop.

“Then my son started coughing,” says Jim Previtera, traveling from Tampa, Florida. “I turned to him and kind of made a joke of it and realized he was coughing pretty good.”

He says when he smelled the chemical, it was familiar.

“Honestly, 31 years of law enforcement told me it was pepper spray,” says Previtera. “But in this day and age I thought it could possibly be a diversion for something worse.”

As he and his son evacuated, Previtera says he came across an orange stain on a wall near the garbage.

Professor Fred Guengerich at Vanderbilt University is a toxicology expert and says to give off an odor that strong, the acetate must have exceeded the limit set by OSHA (50 ppm). He also says this could have come from airport construction.

“I still remain pretty convinced that what I inhaled was pepper spray,” says Previtera.

Sloop says it’s a incident he will carry with him.

“This wasn’t something you could say ‘I’m not going to breath it in,’” he says. “It was there, it was in the air.”

Concourse C is back open. It was only closed for a couple hours Sunday.

Airport officials say they are still investigating how this incident occurred.