Amazon workers treated after bear repellent releases fumes

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Amazon workers treated after bear repellent releases fumes. Gray Hall reports during Action News at 4:30 p.m. on December 5, 2018.

Authorities say 24 workers at an Amazon fulfillment center in Mercer County, New Jersey have been taken hospitals for treatment, after bear repellent fell off a shelf and released fumes, including one person who is in critical condition.

About 30 other workers were treated at the warehouse in Robbinsville on Wednesday morning. Most people were reporting difficulty breathing or burning in their throats.

Amazon employee Elizabeth Rodriguez said, "I went to the hospital because I am pregnant. I'm 18 weeks and I was so worried about my baby. I was coughing too much and I feel like something hot in my nose, but thank God everything is fine. I am going on home now because the doctor said to go home and get rest."

Action News has learned that an automated machine accidentally punctured the can of bear spray releasing the chemicals around 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Many employees complained that they had difficulty breathing and were having burning sensations in their throats.

One person is said to be in critical condition. Workers say they were immediately concerned about their safety.

"Why are we still working, it makes no sense. I get it is peak season but you got to make it make sense. Our safety comes first but we are still in the building that you are saying that is a spray that knocks down bears, but you say safety comes first. No, that is not how it works," said "Jaquise," Amazon employee.

Another worker, Cheyenne Cawley said, "We just saw a bunch of people walking by with masks and stuff on, so we were a little bit alarmed and wondering what was going on. Somebody told us that bear mace went off and we were wondering why they didn't evacuate the whole building because you know its safety first."

The incident reportedly happened on the third floor of the south wing of the building.

"It wasn't scary because I didn't smell anything. I didn't feel affected and my department was fine but they got out the people who were affected," added Cawley.

Rachael Lighty, Regional Manager, External Communications for Amazon Operations, released the following statement:
"Today at our Robbinsville fulfillment center, a damaged aerosol can dispensed strong fumes in a contained area of the facility. The safety of our employees is our top priority, and as such, all employees in that area were relocated to a safe place. Employees experiencing symptoms are being treated onsite. As a precaution, some employees have been transported to local hospitals for evaluation and treatment. We appreciate the swift response of our local responders."


Robbinsville spokesman John Nalbone said the repellent accidentally fell from a shelf on the third floor of the south wing of the fulfillment center.
Local firefighters gave the green light for employees to return back to the impacted area of the building.

So far, there is no update on the employee said to be in critical condition. But Action News has learned that ten patients are being treated.

Amazon confirmed that the accident dispersed strong fumes in the area of the facility. The incident is under investigation.

Rachael Lighty, Regional Manager, External Communications for Amazon Operations, released the following statement:
"Today at our Robbinsville fulfillment center, a damaged aerosol can dispensed strong fumes in a contained area of the facility. The safety of our employees is our top priority, and as such, all employees in that area were relocated to a safe place. Employees experiencing symptoms are being treated onsite. As a precaution, some employees have been transported to local hospitals for evaluation and treatment. We appreciate the swift response of our local responders."


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The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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