LA
11/05/2012 06:06 pm ET

Odor At Forever 21 Sickens 18, Prompts Evacuation Of 100 (VIDEO)

Nearly 100 people had to be evacuated Sunday from a Forever 21 factory in Lincoln Heights, Calif. due to a 'strange odor' that caused employees to experience nausea, headaches and acute vomiting, CBS reports. Eighteen people were treated, and 17 were transported to the hospital.

Everyone else was sent home for the day. A custodian thought the smell originated from a plastic bag in the trash, KTLA reports. But investigators believe it may have come in through the building's air conditioning unit from a nearby roofing job or basement painting job.

HazMat experts and over 100 firefighters responded to the scene.

The incident follows a report last month from the U.S. Department of Labor saying that Forever 21 clothing is being produced in "sweatshop-like conditions."

In 2001, 19 Latino garment workers, aided by the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, sued the company, saying they had worked 10 or 12 hour days without overtime in dirty and unsafe conditions. In 2004, when the case was settled, Forever 21 committed to improving conditions in the local garment industry.

The privately held company, which produces low-priced, trendy clothing, is rapidly expanding in the U.S. and abroad. Its owners, Korean-American devout Christians, print the phrase "John 3:16," a Biblical verse, on the bottom all of the store's yellow shopping bags.

The Department of Labor's investigation into Forever 21's working conditions, which began earlier this year, is part of a larger project to better regulate Southern California's garment industry. In the past five years, the agency has conducted 1,500 investigations in the region, 93 percent of which uncovered violations. The violating companies owed a total of $11 million in back-wages to about 11,000 employees, the agency found.

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