Rotten office fridge cleanup prompts Calif. hazmat call

By Henry K. Lee
The San Francisco Chronicle

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — A downtown San Jose building was evacuated and 28 people were sickened Tuesday after an employee trying to clean a refrigerator filled with rotting food mixed two chemicals, releasing noxious fumes, authorities said.

The incident forced the evacuation of 325 people from the AT&T building at 3475 N. First St. shortly before noon, said Fire Department Capt. Barry Stallard. Paramedics treated 28 people for symptoms that included vomiting and nausea, and seven of them were taken to hospitals, Stallard said.

The problems began when an employee on the second floor opened a refrigerator that had been unplugged and found rotting food inside, Stallard said. She moved the fridge to a conference room and used a cleaning fluid to get rid of the mess.

The woman, who was suffering from a sinus problem and couldn't smell the chemical, then used a second solution, Stallard said. The two chemicals interacted in the air, adding to an already pungent odor caused by the rotten food.

"Discarding the food isn't so critical, but more critical is the cleaning chemical, making sure you know what you're using," Stallard said. "Don't combine chemicals — you're never supposed to combine chemicals."

Copyright 2009 San Francisco Chronicle
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