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Gas from irradiated parcel sickens federal workers

SHARE Gas from irradiated parcel sickens federal workers

WASHINGTON (AP) — A package irradiated as part of the government's anti-anthrax screening gave off a noxious gas Thursday when it was opened at the Commerce Department, sickening at least 11 workers, a fire official said.

The workers complained of nausea, breathing problems and throat irritation, and two were admitted to a hospital in undetermined condition, D.C. Fire Department spokesman Alan Etter said.

The FBI and hazardous-materials workers were dispatched to the scene and blocked off 14th Street in front of the Commerce Department during the evening rush hour. The building is situated at 14th and Constitution Avenue, a block from the Ellipse.

Etter said a package of copy paper tightly wrapped in plastic gave off a noxious gas when it was opened. He said health officials believe the irradiation process can cause paper to give off hydrocarbons that are harmful when concentrated. Gas was held inside the package at the Commerce Department because it was tightly wrapped, Etter said.