Refrigerant leak shuts down south Walgreens; employees, firefighters treated for exposure

Nick Griffin for The Cullman Tribune

Firefighters stand outside Walgreens in south Cullman Sunday night. (Nick Griffin for The Cullman Tribune)


CULLMAN – The Walgreens at 1700 Second Ave. SW and King Edward Street in Cullman was closed early Sunday evening after a refrigerant leak sent employees and two firefighters to Cullman Regional due to exposure.

Cullman Fire Rescue Operations Chief Darren Peeples said employees and responders were exposed to hydrogen cyanide, which he said was a byproduct of the coolant.

“A little bit after 6 or so, they started smelling something in the building, and an employee got a headache and was not feeling well,” said Peeples.

“Our guys took the gas meter in the building and it registered hydrogen cyanide at 5 ppm,” he said. “Lt. Billy Barnett evacuated the building, contacted me, I contacted Dr. Scott Warner, our medical director, and he met me there, where he evaluated the employees and firefighters. Some were transported to the hospital for further evaluation.”

Peeples said the leak was from a cooler in the building.

“An HVAC guy was called by Walgreens, and their regional manager got there,” he said. “Once we got the levels down to around 1 ppm, and they isolated the cause of the leak, we were able to turn the facility over to Walgreens management. They will have remediation tomorrow.”

The status of those transported for evaluation is unknown; however, Peeples said Warner traveled to the emergency room with the patients and that none had been exposed to the hydrogen cyanide for more than 20 minutes.

“They had headaches and nausea,” he said. “They noticed the odd smell and called us within an hour or just over an hour from when they first noticed it.”

The store will be closed until the remediation is complete.

Cullman Fire Rescue Chief Brian Bradberry said, “Dr. Warner our medical director responded to the scene to assist us. Under Dr. Warner's advisement the Walgreens employees were sent to the hospital for evaluation as a precautionary measure. We also sent two of our firefighters to the hospital to be evaluated as well.”

Bradberry said the use of the gas meter was life-saving.

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