Freon leak shuts down Carter One branch

Seven employees checked at hospital

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Seven Charter One employees were taken to the hospital for observation last week after an employee chopping away at ice in a refrigerator punctured a Freon line.

Linda Magoon, the vice president and regional sales manager for retail branches at Charter One, said each of the employees was examined and released from the hospital and had returned to work by late afternoon. None of the employees demonstrated signs of illness or other effects from the leak.

“Everybody was fine,” Magoon said.

Williston Fire Chief Ken Morton said the leak occurred around noon on April 20 when a Charter One employee breaking off ice that had stuck to a freezer’s walls accidentally punched a hole in the Freon line. Williston’s Charter One branch is located on U.S. Route 2 near Taft Corners.

Morton said the employee was exposed to Freon released into the air, as was another employee who was already in the room. Bank workers called the Williston Fire Department for assistance.

Morton said the workers were told to evacuate the building. Fire and rescue officials arrived. Fire workers ventilated the building, while rescue workers tended to the bank employees. At least one employee was seen wearing an oxygen mask.

Morton said Freon is not a highly toxic chemical and the amount released from the punctured line was limited. He said the main threat would have been if the chemical had been in contact with the skin, had been directly inhaled or had been released into someone’s eyes. None of those occurred.

“This was a mild exposure hazard,” Morton said.

However, Morton said fire and rescue officials must use caution dealing with any chemical leak. He said fire officials spoke with the state hazardous materials team over the phone for advice. Firefighters eventually removed the refrigerator after speaking with a technician about the appliance and ruling out the possibility the leak had been ammonia, a more dangerous chemical.

Morton said rescue workers decided the two workers exposed to the initial release of Freon should be transported to Fletcher Allen Health Care for assessment. He said the other five bank employees decided they would like to be checked, too, for precautionary reasons. The seven employees were transported in a total of three ambulances.

Magoon said the Charter One branch remained closed for the afternoon. A Charter One employee was stationed outside the bank to direct customers to the nearest branches.

When the bank workers evacuated the building, the bank’s vault remained open. A Williston police officer provided security until Charter One facility personnel arrived and closed the vault.