Mystery Substances Sicken Workers in Separate Incidents

20 Mar, 2023 Liz Carey


Overland Park, KS ( – Over the past few months, workers in several different cities have become sickened by unknown substances.  

Investigators are still looking into what could have made the employees sick at work.  

In Overland Park, Kansas, a mailroom employee and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services building became sick on Thursday, March 16. Officials said hazardous materials technicians with the Overland Park Fire Department were called to the mailroom to investigate a package they think was the culprit.  

Police, firefighters and paramedics were called to the building but couldn’t find anything that could have cause the employee’s illness, Overland Park Fire Media Manager Jason Rhodes told the Shawnee Mission Post. The incident is still under investigation.  

In February, an unknown substance seeping out of a tractor-trailer at an Amazon warehouse  loading dock sickened at least five workers, officials in Beaumont, Calif. said.  

Riverside County Fire Department said multiple crews were sent to the warehouse found a semi at the loading bay cordoned off due to the fumes.  

“They’re still trying to figure out what the source may be,” fire department spokeswoman April Newman told City News Service at the time. 

Newman said five people required medical treatment at the scene, but that it was not immediately clear what their exposure sickness could be.  

In January, several employees of a central Illinois prison were hospitalized after they reported getting sick after responding to inmates suffering severe discomfort.  

A prison spokesperson and a prison employees’ union representative said 18 staff members and an undisclosed number of inmates at John A Graham Correctional Center in Hillsboro, Ill., required treatment at area hospitals. 

According to the Illinois Department of Corrections spokesperson Naomi Puzzello, the Illinois State Police hazardous materials team is investigating.  

Puzzello said staff members became ill after a prison employee responded to a “medical incident involving individuals in custody who appeared to be under the influence of an unknown substance," Puzzello said. 

Some of the prison officers and other staff members became violently ill after coming near the affected inmate, Anders Lindall of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 told NBC Chicago.

“Those who were in proximity to the inmate were immediately overcome with a variety of symptoms: Lightheadedness, dizziness, vomiting or feeling nauseous,” Lindall said.

The AFSCME's state council has previously expressed growing concern about prison employees coming in contact with dangerous substances.

“The issue of exposure to harmful substances in prisons is increasing,” Lindall said. “AFSCME has been sounding the alarm for months to tighten up the protocol for both incoming mail and visitor screening.”

And at the end of last year, New York Police Department officials said a female hotel employee got sick after cleaning a room where a man left a suspicious powder. 

Police said a man snuck into the Park Hyatt on West 57th Street in New York City and left the powder behind. When the employee went to clean the room the next afternoon, she reported feeling nauseous and dizzy shortly thereafter. 

Officials said FDNY swabbed the room after an unknown substance was found on the bathroom sink. While initial tests showed a trace of possible explosive substances, further testing showed no hazardous material. Officials said because the employee cleaned up the substance, they were unable to identify the substance. It’s possible the initial tests were false, police said.  

Using video surveillance, police were able to identify the man who had been in the room. They said it’s likely the previous occupant of the room lost their key, which the man then found and used.  

"As far as we know, it should have been deactivated after the family checked out, so they're still working on why it wasn't," said NYPD Assistant Chief James McCarthy.   

The man was known to the police, officials said, and had been arrested several times for low-level crimes, as well as trespassing at other hotels.  

The employee was treated at an area hospital and released. 

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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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