updated 9/26/2006 4:23:48 PM ET 2006-09-26T20:23:48

A worker dismantling a pressurized tank of an unknown substance damaged the container, releasing a cloud of gas that sickened several people Tuesday afternoon, authorities said.

Between 40 and 50 people are being decontaminated near the site of the accident near the IKEA store, city Fire Director Onofrio Vitullo said.

He said he did not believe any of the injuries were life threatening, but added it was still unclear how many of those being decontaminated might also require medical treatment.

At least four people were taken to area hospitals after being exposed to the substance, whose identity is still not known, Vitullo said.

The incident took place at about 3 p.m. when a worker was attempting to dismantle a pressurized tank similar to a welding tank, although it was not known what was inside.

"While working on it, he snapped the neck of it off, which released a cloud that traveled across the street and sickened several people," said Vitullo.

Police closed most roads leading to and from the area, an industrial section near Port Elizabeth.

Numerous police, fire and rescue agencies were on the scene and the state Department of Environmental Protection was to respond to determine if the cloud posed a hazard outside the immediate area, but Vitullo said that did not appear to be the case, according to a preliminary assessment of the incident.

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