Union Co. DHHS buildings closed for day after evacuation

by: Kathryn Burcham Updated:

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MONROE, N.C. - Union County human services facilities will reopen Friday after noxious fumes forced a sudden closure and evacuation of the buildings Thursday morning.

County officials said an overpowering smell of decaying waste began filtering in through the Department of Human Services air-conditioning system shortly after 8 a.m.

"It started in the health area and was permeating over into the DSS side of the building," said Executive Director Dr. Richard Matens.

Many employees began complaining of nausea and light-headedness, prompting the evacuation of hundreds of staff members and customers who were using the services at the county facilities.

"The people were getting sick and vomiting and feeling not well. Some of the rescue workers came and said if any of us were feeling sick to come to the emergency crews that were there," said Karen Woodall.

Ten staff members were taken to a hospital to be treated for their symptoms, according to fire officials.

Fire crews first checked the ventilation on the roof of the building and then traced the smell to a dumpster and grease traps left behind a Mexican restaurant next door to the Health Department.

"It's just a sickening smell, to smell it," said Monroe Fire Chief Ron Fowler.

County officials sent staff home and closed the buildings for the day, hoping the smell would dissipate after crews removed the dumpster and the grease trap.

Fire officials said they would return to run a final test with chemical monitors before reopening the offices on Friday.