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Refrigerant leak sends four to hospital

MIDDLEBURY — A refrigerant leak from a cooling system at Hannaford Supermarket in Middlebury released a gas that caused at least four employees to become ill and also prompted the store to close for most of Thursday morning, Jan. 23, according to emergency responders that included members of a state Vermont Hazardous Materials Response Team.
Middlebury Fire Chief Rick Cole said the call came in from Hannaford, the anchor tenant at The Centre shopping plaza off Court Street Extension, at around 5 a.m. He said a refrigerant supply line had broken off within a mechanical room, producing a leak of a chemical cooling agent known as R-22.
The substance spilled onto the floor and then produced a gas as it evaporated, according to Cole, one of 20 Middlebury firefighters who responded to the scene. Middlebury responders were soon joined by New Haven firefighters and members of the state’s “hazmat” team.
The spill had triggered a store alarm. A store employee had checked the room and quickly became dizzy after breathing in the fumes, Cole said. A few other Hannaford employees came in and they, too, began feeling dizzy, according to Cole.
Vermont hazmat officials went into the store, isolated the incident and took care of the R-22, Cole said.
Four Hannaford employees were taken to Porter Hospital. They were examined, treated and quickly released, according to Porter spokesman Ron Hallman.
The supermarket reopened late Thursday morning.

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