At least 38 people were taken to hospitals today after complaining of stinging eyes and bad odors in train and subway stations in Yokohama, a crowded commercial port city adjacent to Tokyo.
Japan has been jittery since a poison gas attack on Tokyo’s subways last month killed 12 people and sickened 5,500.
Police said they did not immediately know if the incidents were related, and the cult that is the chief suspect in the subway attack denied any involvement.
Defense Agency officials said a military poison gas warfare unit was being sent to the area.
The scene at Yokohama’s main train station was pandemonium. Thousands of people were crowded onto sidewalks and streets outside the station. Sirens wailed.
Police in gas masks searched sections of the station, and shops in the area closed their shutters.
Officials said 45 emergency vehicles were at the station, and at least 10 helicopters circled overhead.
NHK, Japan’s public television network, said there were no reports of people losing consciousness, and those hospitalized appeared lucid.
At Yokohama Chuo Hospital, where 12 people were being examined, all of the victims complained of eye irritation and coughing, but no one was in serious condition, an official said.
The cause of the symptoms was not known, she said.
A passenger, Kisuke Anamo, told NHK that he suddenly felt a stinging feeling in his throat and then started coughing when he was walking in an underground passageway in the station.
Other people also began coughing at about the same time, he said.
“I still feel dizzy and sick,” he said.
Kazutoshi Hosoya, who works at a confectionary shop inside the train station, told The Associated Press that he saw one man collapse and a woman cover her face and begin coughing.
“It’s really frightening,” he said.
Police carried a large plastic bag out of the station and placed it on a police bus, but wouldn’t comment on what was inside.
A train where some passengers complained of illness was being inspected, but otherwise train service had resumed, train officials said.
On March 20, unknown assailants released a nerve gas, sarin, on five subway trains in Tokyo during morning rush hour.
No one has been directly charged in that attack. A religious cult, Aum Shinri Kyo, has become the chief suspect after police found tons of dangerous chemicals at its facilities.