15 sent hospital after chemical spill at local grocer
A routine clean-up in the deli department at Truckee Safeway on Monday resulted in a toxic chemical reaction, sending 15 employees to the hospital and forcing evacuation of the grocery store.
A Safeway employee, who was mopping the deli floor with a chlorine bleach mixture, accidentally ran the mop over a puddle of phosphoric acid, creating toxic fumes, said Janet Mann, environmental specialist with Nevada County Environmental Health. A container of phosphoric acid – which is used as a de-limer – was stored under the sink and ruptured, leaving a puddle on the floor with a water-like appearance, Mann said.
“Typically all cleaning chemicals are kept in one area,” Mann said. “The phosphoric acid should not have been kept under there.”
It is unknown how the container ruptured or why it was stored under the sink.
Safeway spokesman Alexander Winslow said Safeway has specific procedures for employees to handle de-limer.
“As far as we know, the liquid was stored and maintained properly,” Winslow said. “We don’t know how the leak occurred at the moment, but we’re looking into that.”
The employee who mixed the chemicals was the first to feel ill and arrived at Tahoe Forest Hospital at 3:52 p.m., said Emergency Room Director Bev Brink. Within 40 minutes, other employees reported symptoms of dizziness, throat irritation, chest tightness and headache, and Safeway management reported the incident to authorities.
“I think Safeway responded correctly,” Brink said. “They called and asked for advice, and they protected their employees.”
Customers and Safeway employees were evacuated from the store between 4:40 and 5 p.m.
Paramedics set up triage on the bench of the grocery store’s western entrance. No Safeway customers reported any symptoms.
Fourteen employees were treated at Tahoe Forest Hospital and all were in minor condition. One of the employees declined treatment, said Teri Smith, hospital public relations specialist. All of the patients were released by Monday evening.
In addition to environmental health, the Truckee Fire Protection District, Truckee Police Department, Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, Donner Summit Fire Department, North Tahoe Fire Department, Squaw Valley Fire Department and California Department of Forestry personnel responded to the scene.
The grocery store was cleared by H20 Environmental, a Sparks-based hazardous material clean-up contractor. All food items in the deli were discarded and surfaces disinfected. Safeway re-opened between 10 and 11 p.m.
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