Illinois chemical exposure sickens 8

Quarantine ends inside hospital treating workers

By Jim Suhr
Associated Press / September 1, 2008
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EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. - One of two Missouri hospital emergency rooms reopened yesterday, a day after being placed under quarantine when eight people made sick by a dangerous chemical's release sought treatment.

Price McCarty, an FBI spokesman in Springfield, Ill., said the chemical release Saturday at the Ro-Corp. plant caused no deaths.

The chemical, which authorities said was likely the highly toxic material nitroaniline, was released when a barrel was dropped at the Ro-Corp. plant.

The FBI said most of the eight people who became sick were Ro-Corp. workers. They remained hospitalized yesterday.

Three were in good condition at SSM DePaul Health Center in Missouri's St. Louis County. The hospital reopened its emergency department yesterday afternoon after quarantining it the previous night, spokeswoman Jamie Newell said.

Three others were in satisfactory condition at St. Anthony's Medical Center. Most of the hospital's emergency department was reopened yesterday after decontamination, the hospital said on its website.

One man remained hospitalized at St. Louis' Barnes-Jewish Hospital. A spokeswoman declined to divulge his condition. Another person was listed in serious condition in the intensive care unit at Saint Louis University Hospital.

Nitroaniline is commonly used in the synthesis of dyes, antioxidants, pharmaceuticals, gasoline, poultry medicines, and as a corrosion inhibitor.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's website says it can cause vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, respiratory arrest, and other symptoms and ailments.

Ro-Corp is a packaging and repackaging facility for dry materials.

McCarty said the FBI initially was called in to pinpoint whether there was anything criminal or terrorism-related about the chemical release, but agents found neither.

Steve Robins, president of the G.S. Robins & Co., the parent company of Ro-Corp Inc., told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper that while "we really don't know what happened" at Ro-Corp., the problem was contained by yesterday.

Robins said the workers took showers either at the site or home before going to hospitals.

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