LEWISTON -- Lewiston Postmaster Patrick Madigan never expected to spend his day in the emergency room at Mount St. Mary’s Hospital.
Neither did half a dozen of his employees.
But a still undetermined airborne irritant landed all of them there for testing after they were evacuated from the Post Office building on South Eighth Street on Wednesday.
“We’re fine,” Madigan said during an interview at the hospital Wednesday afternoon. “We’re just anxious to get some results from the Hazmat team.”
The problem started just before 8 a.m., Madigan said, when he and his employees began to experience what he described as burning nostrils, dry mouth and coughing. There were 18 employees at work at that time.
Lewiston police and volunteers from Lewiston Fire Co. No. 1 responded to the scene and evacuated the postal employees. They also called in Hazmat teams from the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station and from Niagara and Erie County Emergency Services.
The post office was closed to the public and remained shuttered all day.
As a result, there was no mail delivery in the village or town on Wednesday.
Mark Hain, the deputy coordinator of the Niagara County Hazmat Unit, said crews began to perform a series of tests to try to identify and isolate the irritant.
“It’s just an irritant, similar to some sprays that are out there, that would effect your eyes or something like that,” Lewiston Police Chief Frank Previte said. “(Employees who were exposed) were quarantined until we could find out exactly what was the source of this.”
For Madigan and his employees, the waiting for information, was the hardest part.
“It’s unsettling,” Madigan said. “We’re trying to joke about it, but right now everybody’s apprehensive. We’re just waiting for answers.”
By late afternoon, they had them.
Previte said a determination had been made that the irritant was “non-toxic and posed no threat to health or safety.”
Madigan and the other post office employees were released from hospital care by Wednesday afternoon and police said they will require no additional treatment.
Hazmat teams said the irritant was also confined to the Post Office building and never posed a threat to the surrounding neighborhood.
Authorities said they don’t believe the release of the irritant was criminal in nature.
Michele Siwinski, the resident Agent-in-Charge with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, said an investigation into the source of the noxious fumes will continue. Siwinski could not say if the origin of the irritant was a piece of mail or something that already existed inside the facility.
Mail in the facility is not expected to have to go through a decontamination process.
Representatives from the post office have said residents in the Lewiston area may experience delays in the delivery of their mail as a result of Wednesday’s closure of the post office building.
Niagara Gazette reporters Michele Deluca and Rick Pfeiffer contributed to this report.