POCAHONTAS, AR (KAIT) - The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management has told Region 8 News that dog spray was the cause of the hazmat situation Friday morning in Pocahontas that sent 17 people to the hospital.
ADEM said it’s the same dog spray that mail carriers carry, but it’s still unsure how it went off inside the building.
Amanda McMurrey, a public information officer for the Fort Worth Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, said officials determined the substance was a self-defense spay that is provided to carriers to defend themselves against dogs.
“With over 6,000 bites annually sustained by U.S. Postal Carriers, the Postal Service provides this spray to fend off dog attacks. The chemical is non-hazardous, but is an irritant,” McMurrey said. “The spray deployed inadvertently and caused the irritation to breathing and mucus membranes. Employees were decontaminated then taken to the hospital out of an abundance of caution. Once the substance was identified, USPS operations resumed.”
Pocahontas police, along with Randolph County sheriff’s deputies, Arkansas State Police, and the United States Postal Service were investigating the hazmat situation at the post office on Broadway Street.
Pocahontas Fire Chief Darrel Kester said authorities got a call around 9 a.m. Friday about the situation, and that 17 people appeared to suffer from some sort of respiratory symptoms.
Kester said the United States Postal Service is taking over the investigation. Region 8 News has reached out to the USPS, but has yet to hear anything back.
A perimeter was set up around the building, to contain whatever the issue was to the inside.
A hazmat team was sent inside the facility to check things out. Kester said the team, made up of Walnut Ridge, Paragould and Jonesboro firefighters, provided professionalism and nearly 35 people responded to the scene to help with the situation.
After the building was cleared, it was turned over to postal authorities, Kester said.
Randolph County Sheriff Kevin Bell said there was no threat to those outside of the building or the surrounding area.
As a precaution, St. Paul Catholic School was placed on lockdown to make sure they students remained inside, and safe from any possible exposure.