By Juan Carlos Llorca
SANTA TERESA, N.M. — An unknown hazardous material sickened about 200 people Tuesday just northwest of El Paso, as some workers in the industrial area where the substance released described feeling a burning sensation on their skin, according to New Mexico authorities.
A one-mile area surrounding the Dona Ana County Industrial Park and Mexico border crossing at Santa Teresa was evacuated for a few hours and the county airport was closed. Workers a few miles away said they could smell something in the air.
“I got there after they barricaded the road. When I rolled down the window, I started feeling irritation on my skin,” said Gerardo Gomez, who was on his way to work. “It felt like when you get chile on your skin.”
By Tuesday afternoon, only the industrial park remained off-limits as hazmat crews took samples to determine what made the people sick. No serious injuries were reported and no one was hospitalized.
An investigation initially centered at the FoamEx plant on the industrial park campus, but was being expanded to other areas in the park, authorities said. A New Mexico National Guard support team was en route to help with monitoring and testing.
Officials say some people from businesses in the industrial park were taken to Santa Teresa High School as a precaution after complaining of breathing problems, light-headedness, nausea and dizziness.
Some people also described a burning sensation on their skin.
Dona Ana County spokeswoman Kelly Jameson said officials started getting calls from people about 8:30 a.m.
Emergency officials from Texas and New Mexico responded, and people in nearby homes and businesses were told to stay indoors, seal all doors and windows and turn off air conditioning and heating systems.
Officials said the evacuation area did not include any homes.
Classes were also cancelled at a medical college located in the industrial area, which is also home to wire and paper manufacturing businesses and warehouses.