3 sickened after being exposed to nitrogen gas at Weston ice cream shop

Chill-N statement says store manager didn't follow protocol to stop leak

WESTON, Fla. – Two employees fell ill and a deputy with the Broward Sheriff's Office was treated after being exposed to nitrogen gas at a Weston ice cream shop.

The Broward Sheriff's Office Department of Fire Rescue received a call after 4 p.m. from employees who were complaining of dizziness. The Chill-N Nitrogen Ice Cream shop is located in the 2200 block of Weston Road.

Battalion Chief Michael Kane said firefighters arrived and found one person already unresponsive and another in distress.

The release of nitrogen likely happened so quickly that employees could not escape the business before collapsing, Kane said. Evidence of the release could be seen on the iced-over storefront windows, he said.

Courtesy: Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue
Courtesy: Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue

The ice cream parlor uses nitrogen as a freezing agent in preparation of its desserts, Kane said.

"Nitrogen is an inert gas, meaning it doesn't chemically react with other gases and generally isn't toxic," Kane said in a release. "But breathing pure nitrogen could be deadly because the gas displaces oxygen and could lead to suffocation of the victim. In high concentrations, unconsciousness can occur within one or two breaths, according to the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board."

A hazardous materials team stopped the leak, which was emanating from a large storage tank.

Nearby businesses were evacuated as a precaution.

Paul Nunez, owner of neighboring Lucille's American Cafe, said his manager called to tell him about the leak.

"Nitrogen is a serious gas to mess with," Nunez said.

Cafe manager Timothy Summers said firefighters responded quickly.

"It was chaos for a moment," he said.

Danny Golik, who identified himself as a manager at Chill-N Nitrogen Ice Cream, said one employee has already been released from the hospital. Another is being held overnight as a precaution.

"We're going to be closed for a few days and have the techs out here and check and find out what happened and get it all fixed," Golik said.

Here is the statement Chill-N released Thursday night:

"Chill-N is committed to the safety of everyone in our restaurants. Nitrogen is a naturally occurring element found in our atmosphere and the air we breathe, and has been traditionally used in the culinary world to freeze foods. The nitrogen tank in each restaurant is enclosed in glass, and we have strict policies and procedures in place to monitor for leaks, which are extremely rare and, in small doses, unharmful.

"Unfortunately, the tank malfunctioned and the store manager did not follow the appropriate protocol to stop the leak. Due to the volume of nitrogen that was released two employees became ill. Each employee is in stable condition and expected to make a full recovery. Despite the rarity of this occurrence, Chill-N will be retraining all employees on our policies and procedures for monitoring leaks immediately to avoid this from occurring in the future."

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