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Chemical episode in Amherst is pointed reminder

The Friday morning drama involving three sanitation workers who were exposed to hazardous material in East Amherst serves as an important reminder to properly dispose of waste, officials said.

The Modern Corp. workers were overcome by chemicals that had been improperly tossed in the trash. A combination of pool chemicals and chlorine bleach caused a “puff” that affected the workers, according to Chief Jim Lawida of the Main-Transit Fire Department. The three workers reported trouble breathing and were treated at the scene and decontaminated before being taken to hospitals, he said.

Lawida reminded residents that chemicals should be properly disposed at waste drop-offs.

“No chemical should be thrown out in any recycling type of tote,” he said.

Gary Smith, chief operating officer at Modern Corp., added that municipalities have hazardous waste collection days. Information regarding the collection days is available by calling the individual municipality. Disposal instructions are also listed on detergent and bleach packaging, he added.

The Environmental Protection Agency website lists hazardous waste as waste that is “potentially harmful to our health or the environment.” That can include cleaning or pesticides, according to the website.

Smith called the Friday incident “rare” and said only a handful have occurred during his 22 years with the company.

“Fortunately, there’s no permanent harm here,” he said.

By 1:30 p.m., two of the workers were treated and released, Smith said. The third worker is being held for observation at Millard Suburban Hospital out of an “abundance of caution” because he has an asthmatic condition.

The incident was reported at about 9:25 a.m., when the Modern Corp. garbage truck was stopped at the northern end of Teakwood Terrance, which runs between Sheridan Drive and Maple Road. First responders reported that the men were out of the truck and vomiting.

“The actual chemicals in the container were broken up and dispersed,” the fire chief said.

It was unknown where the crew picked up the chemicals, and the chief said the incident isn’t considered suspicious.

Several firefighters responded to the scene, and a decontamination area was established at Teakwood Terrace and Brian Avenue.

A resident of the immediate area said police officers went door to door, advising residents to keep doors and windows closed and air conditioning units off. But the reason why wasn’t disclosed, the resident said.