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Dozens Sick at Mass. Trash Facility

NEW BEDFORD - An unknown gas at ABC Disposal on Shawmut Avenue has sickened at least a dozen people. At least six people have been transported to St. Luke's hospital, with two reportedly in cardiac arrest.

Roughly 150 people have been evacuated from the surrounding area, including the city's Department of Infrastructure.

"Apparently, some of the workers became sick and spontaneously fell into unconsciousness," New Bedford Police Lt. Jeffrey Silva told Channel 5 television news. "It's clearly some type of chemical reaction that released a noxious vapor."

Victims complain of difficulty breathing, and in some cases seizures.

Authorities say they were notified about the situation at approximately 10:15 a.m.

The Fire Department's hazardous materials team has been called to the scene. Firefighters have entered the facility to determine what the gas or contaminant is, and where it is coming from.

Ron LaBelle, the director of the city's Department of Infrastructure, says city officials don't know yet know what kind of gas or contaminants they might be dealing with.

He says people often throw out hazardous materials in their trash, and when they are compacted at a trash disposal facility like ABC, they can explode and release dangerous chemicals into the air.

He said he didn't know whether that is the case in this instance.

"It could be anything," he said.

Authorities have set up a command center in the parking lot for an ABC Disposal storage facility, located at 1069 Shawmut Ave.

Reporters are being shepherded back to that location, with authorities expressing concern about the southwesterly winds.

At 11:40 p.m., 45 hazmat personnel had been called to the scene because the contaminant had still not been identified.

At St. Luke s Hospital, spokeswoman Joyce Brennan said the decontamination unit had been activated at the hospital. She said she couldn t comment on reports around 11:10 a.m. that EMS personnel hadn t been allowed in with one patient because the unit wasn t up and running.

It takes some time to set up, Brennan said. While she did not have the exact time, Brennan said as soon as hospital officials were notified of the problem, they began setting up the tent. It takes about 15 minutes to inflate, then another 10 or 15 minutes to become operative, she said.

Around 11:30 a.m., Brennan said the hospital had been told to expect 12 patients, maybe more. She said those people plus anyone in cardiac arrest or severe medical distress would be treated in the ER but those with non-urgent symptoms will be going to other hospitals.

According to the police radio, as a precaution, a decontamination unit had also been activated at Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River.

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