Noxious gas cloud in N.J. sickens dozens, firefighter

By Wayne Parry
The Associated Press

ELIZABETH, N.J. — A trucking company worker damaged a pressurized tank containing sulfur dioxide on Tuesday, releasing a cloud of gas that sickened dozens of people, authorities said.

Fifty-two people were decontaminated and taken to area hospitals, said city fire director Onofrio Vitullo. Several, including a firefighter, reported trouble breathing, but none of the injuries appear to be serious, Vitullo said. Witnesses said people exposed to the gas began to vomit.

Sulphur dioxide can irritate the eyes and lungs.

The accident happened at about 3 p.m. as a worker was attempting to dismantle a pressurized tank similar to a welding tank at Full Circle Carriers, a trucking company. The worker snapped the neck off and the cloud was released, Vitullo said.

A hazardous material crew was brought in to seal the container, Vitullo said. Police closed roads leading into the area, an industrial section of Elizabeth, 4 miles south of Newark.

Karen Hershey, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection, said the leak appeared to have stopped.

Eddie Rodriguez, 52, a truck driver from Cliffside Park, was having a shipping container loaded onto his truck when he suddenly smelled a strong odor, and then he couldn't breathe.

"I looked in my mirror and the guy behind me got out of his truck and started throwing up and gasping for air. All that time, I couldn't breathe either," Rodriguez said. "Everywhere around me, like 50 guys were feeling the same way."

David Guadiane, a paramedic from Trinitas Hospital, was among the rescue workers who arrived.

"Your eyes started to burn and you felt irritation in your throat," Guadiane said.

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