Amazon workers taken to hospitals after canister of bear repellent discharges fumes

Inside an Amazon fulfillment center, a conveyer belt is used to organize packages.

Two dozen workers at an Amazon fulfillment center in New Jersey were taken to hospitals Wednesday after a machine punctured an aerosol canister of bear repellent, causing it to discharge toxic fumes inside the building, a spokesperson for Robbinsville Township told CNN.

Employees reported experiencing difficulty breathing and burning sensations in their eyes and throat, said John Nalbone, spokesperson for Robbinsville Township, where the fulfillment center is located.

Emergency personnel responded to a morning 911 call that 54 workers at the fulfillment center were experiencing symptoms, Nalbone said. Twenty-four workers were taken to local hospitals, including one in critical condition, he said.

A preliminary investigation said the canister fell off a shelf, but Nalbone further clarified that an automated machine punctured a 9-ounce can of the bear repellent.

Bear repellent spray is similar to a can of pepper spray and is intended to deter an aggressive or charging bear. The US Fish and Wildlife Service recommends bear repellent spray as both safer and more effective than a firearm in fending off bear attacks.

Rachael Lighty, regional manager for external communications for Amazon Operations, said a damaged canister caused the problem.

“Today at our Robbinsville fulfillment center, a damaged aerosol can dispensed strong fumes in a contained area of the facility,” she said.

“The safety of our employees is our top priority, and as such, all employees in that area have been relocated to safe place and employees experiencing symptoms are being treated onsite. As a precaution, some employees have been transported to local hospitals for evaluation and treatment. We appreciate the swift response of our local responders.”

Nalbone said the call came in at approximately 8:50 a.m. to the Robbinsville EMS/911 system. One wing of the 1.3 million square foot center was evacuated, he added.