Carbon dioxide leak sickens workers at food plant

Published March 30, 2012 11:00PM (EDT)

VALLEJO, Calif. (AP) — More than 70 workers at a Northern California food processing plant were sent to hospitals Friday after authorities say they were exposed to a carbon dioxide gas leak.

Workers at Ghiringhelli Specialty Foods in Vallejo began having difficulty breathing and some started vomiting due to what firefighters described as a gas leak in a kitchen fed by an external carbon dioxide tank.

The leak was capped but nearly all 74 workers at the plant suffered at least some effects from the gas, Vallejo Fire Captain Marty Culverwell said.

"It was shut off in the kitchen and the tank feeding the kitchen has also been secured," Culverwell said. "It was contained and ventilated correctly."

Firefighters arriving at the scene saw workers outside suffering from more serious symptoms of carbon dioxide exposure, including nausea, respiratory problems, fainting and difficulty seeing.

First responders said they didn't expect workers to suffer long-term effects from the exposure.

The plant's owner, Mike Ghiringhelli, questioned whether the problem was as serious as it seemed.

"I think it's a false alarm, 'cause the air was fine," Ghiringhelli told reporters outside the plant.

An investigator from the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health was on the scene, agency spokesman Dean Fryer. He said the investigation into the leak had just begun.

Firefighters said they did not find unusually high levels of carbon dioxide in the air inside the building but told KTVU-TV the doors to the plant had been open for some time when they arrived.

Sy Neilson, a spokesman for Sutter Solano Medical Center, said the hospital set up special triage units to deal with the influx of patients.

The recently opened 50,000-square-foot plant manufactures what the company's website describes as private label fresh and frozen natural foods, including salads, pizzas and grilled meats.

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------