A mysterious odor at a Riverhead outlet store caused respiratory irritation for at least 16 people Tuesday, but the cause of the problem eluded detection by a hazmat team and other investigators, authorities said.
Banana Republic, a clothing store at Tanger Outlets Riverhead, was evacuated at about 4:40 p.m. after six employees and at least 10 customers got sick, said Second Assistant Chief Timothy Corwin Jr. of the Riverhead fire department.
Corwin said he and eight firefighters went around the store with detectors for carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, natural gas and propane.
“Our throats started burning within 30 seconds of walking around,” he said.
But nothing registered on their detectors, the assistant fire chief said, and when Brookhaven Town’s hazmat team arrived to conduct at least 12 tests, nothing registered on their specialized equipment, either.
Investigators believe someone may have released pepper spray from a canister, Corwin said, and by the time the air was tested, the irritant had likely dispersed enough so that it did not show up on sensors.
The Riverhead Town fire marshal’s office and Riverhead police will investigate and look at store surveillance footage to determine what happened, the fire official said.
One employee was taken to the hospital as a precaution, while five other employees were evaluated at the scene, Corwin said. The adjoining store, a kitchen ware outlet, was also evacuated, he said.