SKOWHEGAN — An investigation is underway in Skowhegan after employees were sickened in some type of hazmat incident at the New Balance Factory.
“It was bad,” said Dorothy Worcester, who lives across the street from the factory on Walnut Street.
When Worcester saw fire trucks and ambulances fill the parking lot of the New Balance Factory across from her house, she knew something wasn’t right.
“I saw some of the people go, taken to the hospital, you know? And wow, I couldn’t believe it,” said Worcester.
Around 1:15 p.m. Thursday, Skowhegan Fire Chief Shawn Howard said, employees on the fourth floor of the Skowhegan factory called 9-1-1, complaining of shortness of breath. Other were experiencing irritation and burning in their eyes.
As a result, Skowhegan firefighters evacuated the building and called hazmat teams from Waterville, Augusta, and Sappi paper to the scene.
“We’re dealing with an industrial mill setting here. There’s a lot of solvents that they use. We went through those solvents one by one, and basically trying to narrow it down,” Howard said. “What’s going on? What caused these people to become ill?”
Howard said either five or six employees were taken to Redington-Fairview hospital to be treated. In total, nearly 70 employees went through a decontamination process to get the irritant off their skin, hair and clothing.
All have since been treated and released, but what employees may have been exposed to remains unknown.
“Nothing was introduced that’s out of the ordinary. This is solvents that these workers, that they work with, and New Balance does a very good job and has great quality control with everything that they use in there,” Howard said.
Chief Howard said the air quality monitor came back normal, and by their standards the building is safe, but it’s up to New Balance to determine when employees will be allowed back inside.
“Officials from New Balance are working hand in hand with us, and I hope in the coming days we have more answers,” Howard said.
It’s one of the largest hazmat responses Howard said he’s seen in his 20 years with the department, something he and Worcester will most likely never forget.
“I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life, I never have,” Worcester said.