LONGMONT, Colo. — Two dozen people were being evaluated Sunday afternoon after apparently being exposed to chemicals at Oskar Blues Home Made Liquids and Solids restaurant, the Longmont Police Department reported.
A possible chemical incident was called in about 12:40 p.m., police said. Some 24 employees and customers said they had been exposed to an unknown substance. Seventeen people were hospitalized with respiratory complaints. Potential victims were decontaminated and evaluated at the scene.
Early readings from HAZMAT equipment indicated a possible refrigerant leak, LPD said. But a more thorough investigation ruled that out.
“Our best guess is that this is a result of a defective 200 gallon water heater,” Jerrod Vanlandingham of the Longmont Department of Public Safety said in a statement. “The hot water heater was found to be malfunctioning causing it to attempt to light off over and over. We think the exhaust which contains products of incomplete combustion were being recirculated through a nearby evaporative cooler right above the fryer area where the employees had been working.”
The exact cause cannot be definitively proven with the equipment available in Longmont, Vanlandingham said.