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Mass. Chemical Leak Leaves 2 Critically Injured, 55 Hospitalized

Mon, 08/03/2009 - 11:31am

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (AP) — Noxious fumes at a trash disposal facility sent 55 people to hospitals on Monday, including two who were listed in critical condition.

Firefighters responded to ABC Disposal Service Inc. in New Bedford just after 10 a.m. after a report that something brought to the facility was making people sick, fire Chief Paul Leger said.

As many as 10 people lost consciousness after breathing in the fumes, authorities said. The victims were decontaminated by a hazardous materials team on site before being taken to hospitals.

St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford said it received 33 patients, two of whom were listed as critical and were in the intensive care unit. Twenty-six of those patients were brought in by bus, and they were listed in good condition, the hospital said. The hospital said symptoms included nausea, respiratory distress and dizziness.

Twenty-two more victims were taken to Charlton Memorial Hospital in nearby Fall River and they were all listed in good condition.

The fumes were caused by trash that was brought in and was being manually sorted, said Ed Coletta, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. Authorities said the chemicals were contained at the facility.

Investigators are still trying to determine what type of chemical was leaked and its source, Leger said.

Police will continue to treat the chemical leak as a criminal investigation until they can determine it was an accident, New Bedford police Chief Ron Teachman said.

ABC Disposal is a 40-year-old business that collects, transports and disposes of more than 200,000 tons of nonhazardous waste per year, according to the company's Web site. The company disposes residential, commercial and industrial waste.

The facility is located in an industrial area of the coastal city about 55 miles south of Boston, and city residents were not considered to be in danger, Leger said.

At least two emergency responders were among those treated for exposure to the fumes, and several police officers also complained of symptoms, said New Bedford police Lt. Jeffrey Silva.

Officers who first responded to the scene were decontaminated, transported to the hospital and later released, Teachman said.

Ted Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said the agency had sent a safety inspector and an industrial hygienist to the site to investigate.

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