Dozens of Amazon workers have been taken to hospital after a robot tore a can of bear repellent spray, discharging fumes inside a warehouse.
Employees at Amazon’s Robbinsville Township warehouse reported trouble breathing and burning sensations in their eyes and throats, a spokesperson for the township told CNN.
First responders arrived at the facility on Wednesday after receiving a 911 call saying 54 workers were experiencing symptoms.
Soon after, an entire wing of the 1.3 million square foot building was evacuated, and 24 workers were sent to local hospitals.
An official investigation concluded ”an automated machine accidentally punctured a 9-ounce bear repellent can, releasing concentrated Capsaican”.
Bear repellent spray, intended to scare off an aggressive bear, is similar to pepper spray in that it both contains a chemical called oleoresin capsicum. The chemical is found in chilli peppers that causes painful burning and stinging sensations.
The only chemical difference between bear repellant spray and pepper spray is that the former contains a lower amount of oleoresin capsicum.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service recommends using bear repellant spray and has deemed it to be more effective in repelling charging bears than the use of firearms.
“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,” Rachael Lighty, a spokeswoman for Amazon Operations, said in a statement on Wednesday.
“As a precaution, some employees have been transported to local hospitals for evaluation and treatment. We appreciate the swift response of our local responders.”
All workers were expected to be released from hospital within 24 hours, local media reported.
Amazon has come under fire repeatedly for reported cases of poor labour practices, negligence, and abuse of its workers at their warehouses and delivery routes. Critics admonished the electronic commerce company for overworking their warehouse employees and paying them low wages.
In July 2018, The Guardian revealed Amazon mistreated workers who suffered workplace injuries at their warehouses, and often left them to homelessness, unemployed, or deprived of any income.
Meanwhile, the revenues from the warehouses, like the Robbinsville Township fulfilment centre, has made Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, the wealthiest person in history—raking in over $150bn (£117bn) —as of July 2018.