New Jersey

Robot Punctures Bear Spray Can, More Than 50 People Sickened at New Jersey Amazon Warehouse, Town Says

Accidental discharge of bear repellent sickens workers at Amazon Fulfillment Center in Robbinsville, New Jersey

What to Know

  • More than 50 people reported feeling ill and 24 were hospitalized after bear spray was released at a New Jersey Amazon facility.
  • A spokesperson for the town of Robbinsville says the third-floor south entrance was evacuated after a robot punctured the can.
  • Workers' primary complaint was difficulty breathing and burning of the eyes and throat.

More than 50 employees at an Amazon warehouse in New Jersey were sickened Wednesday after an automated machine punctured a can of bear repellent spray.

Twenty four of those workers were sent to five area hospitals, Robbinsville town spokesman John Nalbone said. One worker was listed in critical condition.

The workers said they were having trouble breathing and felt a burning sensation in their eyes and throats, Nalbone said.

A triage station was set up outside and multiple ambulances reported to the warehouse on New Canton Way in Robbinsville, Mercer County, according to the Robbinsville Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 3786

Thirty workers were treated on the scene but not hospitalized.

Nalbone said that the first reports came in around 8:50 a.m. Later investigation revealed that an automated machine punctured the 9-ounce bear repellent can, releasing extremely concentrated Capsaican, an active component in chili peppers.

The odor was clear by early afternoon, Nalbone said.

One wing of the 1.3-million-square-foot facility was evacuated. The incident happened on the third floor, officials said.

The Amazon fulfillment center in Mercer County, New Jersey, is expected to ship out about 1 million orders on Cyber Monday alone. Amazon has made it a priority to get packages to consumers on time and intact.

Amazon released a brief statement: "Today at our Robbinsville fulfillment center, a damaged aerosol can dispensed strong fumes in a contained area of the facility. 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," said the statement from Rachael Lighty, regional manager of external communications for Amazon Operations.

Lighty released another statement Wednesday night reporting that all of the impacted employees have been or are expected to be released from the hospital within the next 24 hours.

"The safety of our employees is always our top priority and a full investigation is already underway," Lighty wrote. "We’d like to thank all of the first responders who helped with today’s incident.”

Worker David Austin was on the floor above where the incident took place.

"It kind of just exploded all over the place... and it went from one side of the building to the other side," he said.

"The main spill was on this side of the building but once it got in the vents it went everywhere," worker Ariana Hayes said. "So, once we started to smell it they had us sit in the break room until they cleared it out."

Work resumed on the other floors later Monday, workers said.

Amazon thanked the "swift response of our local responders."

Amazon sells multiple brands of bear repellent on its site in can sizes as big as 10 ounces.

Bear spray contains ingredients similar to pepper sprays used for personal defense. Strong enough to stop a bear, it is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

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