Thursday, November 1, 2012

Mystery widens over airborne substance that sickened 200

(6:10 p.m. update)
SANTA TERESA — A mysterious airborne substance made workers sick and caused a mass evacuation of Doña Ana County Industrial Park on Tuesday morning.
Less than 200 people became ill but none suffered serious problems, officials said.
Those affected were examined by paramedics from El Paso and Doña Ana County and then released. Students at Santa Teresa High School a few miles away were not affected, officials said.
The New Mexico National Guard was called to the scene because officials on Tuesday had not figured out what caused people to get sick.

Officials late Tuesday afternoon said the industrial park will remain closed, possibly into today and that the initial investigation focused on Foamex, a company that produces foam fillings for automobiles.
Officials said the investigation has moved beyond Foamex into other buildings in the area.
Several warehouse employees began feeling ill and having difficulty breathing at about 8:30 a.m. outside a building at 2500 block of Airport Road.

The Doña Ana County Fire and Emergency Service Department Hazardous Materials Response Team was dispatched to area and began evacuating people in a one mile radius, Doña Ana County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Kelly Jameson, said.

"We don't have any spill reports right now," Jameson said. "We are working to determine the cause of this situation. What we are going to do is conduct some air-quality testing that will hopefully
help us to determine what we are dealing with right now."

By Tuesday afternoon, Las Cruces Fire Department's Hazmat team and the civil-support team from the New Mexico National Guard were deployed to the area.

A National Guard spokesman Col. Michael Montoya said the civil-support team is a hazmat specialist team.
"They test chemicals or substances that other responders can't test," Montoya said. "We have some of the most sophisticated equipment."

Montoya said the civil-support team is usually called in to assist other agencies.
An El Paso Elite Medical Transport ambulance bus, one of 13 in Texas, evacuated 20 people at a time to a set-up command center at Santa Teresa High School by the American Red Cross.
Paramedics treated people who were complaining of light-headedness, nausea and dizziness. After three hours, all of the evacuees were cleared and released.

None of the workers who were evacuated were taken to the hospital.
There were not reports of sickness from the nearest neighborhood at McNutt Road and the Pete V. Domenici Highway, officials said.

New Mexico State Police, Doña Ana County sheriff deputies and Border Patrol agents blocked off Airport Road at the Pete V. Domenici Highway, just miles away from the Santa Teresa Port of Entry, which remained open.
The Mesilla Valley Regional Dispatch Authority also began calling residents and businesses within two miles of the incident to warn them about the situation.

Residents were asked to stay inside, seal doors and windows and turn off air conditioners and heating systems so they would not draw air inside.

The Doña Ana County Airport was also closed and evacuated.
A long line of 18-wheelers were parked along the Pete V. Domenici Highway, most drivers said they had deliveries to make at the industrial park.

From about half mile away, lines of emergency vehicles could be seen parked along the road that leads into the park. Police and firefighters were seen discussing the situation, but nothing could be seen where the investigation was taking place.

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