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Bear repellent accidentally discharges in Amazon warehouse, sickening dozens of workers

Amazon boxes are stacked for delivery in Manhattan. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Dozens of employees at a sprawling warehouse in New Jersey have been sickened after an aerosol can containing bear repellent was punctured, dispersing fumes into the air, an official said.

About 80 workers reported trouble breathing Wednesday morning after a 9 oz. can of bear repellent was accidentally hit by an “automated machine” inside the 1.3 million-square-foot facility in Robbinsville Township, near Trenton, Robbinsville spokesman John Nalbone told The Washington Post. Nalbone said 24 of the workers were transported to hospitals in the area, one of whom was listed in critical condition. The conditions of the other patients were not immediately known.

Amazon said workers are being evaluated and sent to hospitals as needed.

“Today at our Robbinsville fulfillment center, a damaged aerosol can dispensed strong fumes in a contained area of the facility,” Rachael Lighty, a spokeswoman for the company, said in a statement to The Washington Post. “The safety of our employees is our top priority, and as such, all employees in that area have been relocated to a safe place and employees experiencing symptoms are being treated on-site. As a precaution, some employees have been transported to local hospitals for evaluation and treatment. We appreciate the swift response of our local responders.”

( chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Nalbone, with Robbinsville Township, said someone called 911 about 8:50 a.m., reporting that the can of bear repellent had discharged on the third floor of the south wing of the warehouse.

He said that the warehouse was not evacuated but that the area where the can discharged was cleared.

Bear pepper spray is a nonlethal repellent that causes a bear’s mucous membranes to swell, making it hard for the animal to see or breathe, giving its victim an opportunity to flee, according to the Get Bear Smart Society.

It has a similar effect on humans.

Nalbone said the repellent contained capsaicin, a chile pepper extract from the pepper plant capsicum. According to an explainer from the National Park Service’s Bear Management Office, the ingredients are “an extreme irritant of the skin, eyes, nose, throat, and lungs of bears, humans, and other mammals” and have been known to accidentally harm visitors at national parks.

According to the explainer, which was released by Yellowstone National Park, symptoms usually subside within 45 minutes, but people who have been exposed should be closely monitored.

It’s still not clear how the incident occurred at the Amazon warehouse. The company said it is investigating.

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