Calif. specialty foods plant evacuated after carbon dioxide leak

Ambulances and firefighters from Solano County and American Canyon arrived at the scene, and medics began treating a number of employees for a variety of symptoms, including vomiting and fainting


By Irma Widjojo
Vallejo Times Herald


VALLEJO, Ca. — A carbon dioxide leak led to 95 food processing plant employees being sent to area hospitals after several workers displayed symptoms such as nausea, weakness and difficulty breathing, Vallejo firefighters said.

However, a company co-owner later suggested the Friday afternoon evacuation was a "false alarm."

Vallejo Fire acting Battalion Chief Sean Fields said that at about 12:30 p.m. an employee of Ghiringhelli Specialty Foods, 101 Benicia Road, began complaining of weakness.

Upon arrival, firefighters determined that other employees also showed signs of illness and that there may be some type of contamination in the building. An immediate evacuation was ordered.

Firefighters soon determined there was a carbon dioxide leak in the building. Employees told firefighters that they started feeling ill after turning on a freeze tunnel machine, which is connected to a large tank of carbon dioxide. The machine made an unusual noise, and a manager ordered it switched off. However, more people began feeling sick, firefighters said.

The leak was repaired shortly after it was discovered.

An employee told the Times-Herald that the contamination began in the production department.

"Carbon dioxide displaces oxygen," Vallejo Fire Battalion Chief Dave Urrutia said. "Once they were outside, the outside air was enough to get them back to the normal level of oxygen."

Ambulances and firefighters from Solano County and American Canyon arrived at the scene, and medics began treating a number of employees for a variety of symptoms, including vomiting and fainting.

Using 20 ambulances, medical personnel transported 95 of the plant's 96 employees to either Sutter Solano Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente Vallejo Medical Center, NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield or Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, firefighters said. Those not showing symptoms were taken by two Vallejo city buses to hospitals to be checked out.

At least one male patient was admitted and was in serious condition, Sutter Solano Medical Center spokesman Sy Neilson said.

"I personally feel it was a false alarm," said company owner Mike Ghiringhelli. "We tested the air and it was fine, and we are continuing to test it."

The company manufactures fresh and frozen food, such as salads, and has been in business for 25 years. The Vallejo location has been operating for three years, and employs about 100 people, Ghiringhelli said. The plant is about 50,000 square feet, according to the company's website.

Asked about the ill employees, Ghiringhelli said the symptoms shown -- like vomiting and fainting -- might be the result of anxiety.

"I'm not saying that this is the case," Ghiringhelli added. "But anxiety does strange things. The safety and health and our staff is very important."

The plant has never had to be evacuated before, Ghiringhelli said, adding that he expected work to resume today.

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