Carbon dioxide leak sickens workers at food plant

Mar 31, 2012, 12:32 AM

VALLEJO, Calif. (AP) – Hospital officials say one worker is in serious condition while all others have recovered from exposure to a carbon dioxide leak at a Northern California food processing plant.

More than 70 workers were sent to hospitals Friday after authorities say they were exposed to the leak at Ghiringhelli Specialty Foods in Vallejo.

Sutter Solano Medical Center spokesman Sy Neilson said 45 patients were treated for symptoms such as nausea, dizziness and trouble breathing.

He said all were released except for one who was admitted in serious condition due to more serious symptoms doctors wanted to monitor.

None of the 30 patients being treated at Vallejo Medical Center was expected to be admitted for treatment.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

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.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Carbon dioxide leak sickens workers at food plant