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Hazmat team combs raided apartment in Niagara Falls after FBI agents get sick

A Niagara County hazmat team and police from at least two agencies swarmed a unit at the Packard Court Apartments in Niagara Falls Wednesday after several members of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force got sick in the wake of a Dec. 14 raid that resulted in the arrest of the occupant for possessing drugs, firearms and improvised explosives.

Niagara County sheriff's deputies and Niagara Falls police officers were on the scene on Pine Avenue, along with FBI Special-Agent-in-Charge Gary Loeffert, as hazardous materials investigators probed the apartment for any signs of what caused the mysterious respiratory ailments.

Officials took samples and conducted initial tests that will be examined by the Niagara County Health Department, but won't have results right away and haven't drawn any conclusions yet.

Agents from the FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, along with Niagara Falls police and sheriff's deputies, raided the apartment nearly two weeks ago and arrested 28-year-old Jeffrey Richards, after finding cocaine, heroin, marijuana, 10 guns and ammunition, and an improvised explosive device. He faces a series of criminal charges.

Wednesday's mobilization came in response to a request by the FBI, which only learned after the Christmas holiday that "a handful of agents and investigators" from the task force had independently "developed flu-like symptoms" in the days after the team executed a search warrant at the apartment, said FBI spokeswoman Maureen Dempsey.

"People didn’t realize other people were sick that had been on that search," Dempsey said, citing the holidays and vacations. "When it came to light in the last day or two that people had symptoms and they were all at the search, they wanted to go back and check the location."

Dempsey stressed that the symptoms did not materialize on the scene or immediately after the search, but in the following days, so it's not clear if they were connected to anything in the apartment. She said no one was hospitalized as a result, but "quite a few people did go see the doctor."

Still, she said, "it just seemed like a big coincidence, so we're just trying to make sure there was nothing at that location that caused any of the illnesses."

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