Freon leak forces grocery store evacuation
Safeway customers were unable to shop for groceries for more than three hours Monday morning after extremely high levels of freon were detected in the meat department of the store.
A gaseous leak in a store cooling system caused some store employees and early morning customers to feel symptoms of dizziness, fatigue and nausea, said Truckee Fire Protection District Chief Mike Terwilliger.
The leak occurred in the meat department area at the back of the store.
“There was definitely an effect on the people in the area in the store,” Terwilliger said.
Thirteen Safeway employees were transported to Tahoe Forest Hospital after the store was evacuated and closed off.
“It was precautionary at the request of the store (management) and the paramedics,” Terwilliger said.
An odor, which officials say is not easily detectable, was noticed by an employee at approximately 8:30 a.m. after employees began to complain of dizziness.
Truckee Fire organized a special hazardous/materials team, and evacuated the store immediately.
Three haz/mat personnel entered the building to investigate the odor. Fans were set up in the store and in the doorways to help dissipate the gas.
Because there are approximately 25 different varieties of coolant, fire officials had to wait until the store’s maintenance company for store compressors arrived from Reno to determine what brand of coolant was leaking.
Different brands have varying effects on humans, Terwilliger said.
Once the brand was identified, the symptoms matched the description of possible effects on humans. A prolonged exposure to a significant concentration can be serious, he said.
All patients released
All patients were released the same day.
Officials said they believe food in the store was not affected. The store reopened just after noon.
Terwilliger said the reason for the leak is unknown, and the Nevada County Department of Environmental Health is working with Safeway to mitigate the problem to keep it from happening again.
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