Chemical spill at recycling facility sickens nearly 20

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by Catherine Holland

Video report by Ryan O'Donnell

Posted on September 17, 2013 at 8:57 AM

Updated Thursday, Sep 19 at 6:33 AM

Map: 27th Avenue and Dixileta Drive

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PHOENIX – Emergency crews have evacuated a Phoenix recycling facility after nearly 20 people got sick there Tuesday morning.

Emergency responders set up a triage area in the parking lot of the Phoenix North Transfer Station and Materials Recovery Facility near Dixileta Drive and 27th Avenue, just east of Interstate 17. More than 20 emergency units were called to the scene.

According to Larry Nuñez of the Phoenix Fire Department, there was an unknown chemical spill. Hazardous-materials crews ware on the scene and are trying to determine exactly what is leaking.

Nuñez told 3TV that they were dealing with an airborne hazard.

Capt. Troy Caskey of the Phoenix Fire Department said 19 people were treated on the scene. Their symptoms include scratchy throats, burning noses and vomiting.

"It came in to us as an 'unknown odor,'" Caskey told 3TV's Ryan O'Donnell. "We're not sure exactly what it was or if it's even related to what's been going on with these people ...."

Workers were evacuated after a reported chemical spill and then allowed back inside after the facility was deemed safe. After four workers became ill, employees were evacuated a second time.

Fifteen more people then developed symptoms.

Aerial video from Chopper 3 showed paramedics working with several patients.

"At this time, no one is seriously injured or ill," Caskey said, explaining that all of the patients refused transport to the hospital for further evaluation.

Nunez said it’s not clear how widespread the spill was.

"Any time you have a hazardous-material type call, we're going to suspect the worst," Caskey said. "We're going to plan for the worst."

Haz-mat teams went through the facility to try to pinpoint the source of the reported odor.

"At this point, nothing has been found," Caskey said.

He said the slight breeze in the area might have cleared out any noxious fumes.

"That always helps," he said. "It also is a concern, though. If there is some sort of a hazardous material, that could contaminate people downwind."

Caskey said an industrial hygienist and a safety team with the plant will go through the facility before anyone is allowed back inside.

While all of this was happening on the north side of the site, the south side, where waste and recyclables are dropped off, remained operational.

The Phoenix North Transfer Station and Materials Recovery Facility is where waste and recyclables are separated. The 450-acre site handles about 4,000 tons of waste and recyclables every day.

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