UPDATE: Hazmat situation at Johnston recycling facility

 Nicole Brazier

JOHNSTON – Nearly 30 workers were evacuated to the front lawn of the Materials Recycling Facility in Johnston and 14 were rushed to Rhode Island Hospital after being exposed to a hazardous vapor.

“It caused some of the workers to have some respiratory issues… just some itchiness when you breath and some hyperventilating slightly,” said Gary Maddocks, Security Chief, RI Resource Recovery.

It started just after 10:30 am, when a small container with liquid in it was accidentally sent through the processing machine.

That liquid was turned into a vapor that caused some smoke on the sorting line, and before the line was stopped for emergency procedures several workers were already exposed.

The people who work there are trained to make sure that no liquids go through that processing machine but officials tell us that this one just slipped by, by accident.

“That belt moves a hundred feet a minute,” said Johnston Fire Chief Timothy McLaughlin. “I think when the guy went to grab it he just missed it, and has he missed it it just went down and got caught in the screen portion of it which goes through the entire system.

Recycling officials say this was most likely caused by an improperly disposed container. they’re calling on the public to sort correctly to keep these workers safe.

“If people could put into their bins only what belongs there it would be good for the environment it’ll be good for our employees who work here,” said Michael O’Connell, Executive Director of RI Resource Recovery.

Crews from local fire departments are investigating alongside the Department of Environmental Management, and OSHA… though they may never get any answers.
“We’d like to figure out what’s in it, but it’s a needle in a haystack… for example if you took soda pop cans, in one bail there are over 35 thousand of them,” said O’Connell.

The plant shut down this afternoon to allow fire crews to continue their investigation. All the material being recycling in the facility today will be bailed and buried as a safety precaution.

(c) WLNE-TV 2014