July 29, 1997 in City

Sealed Vents Blamed For Packing Plant Fumes ‘Like Putting A Lid On A Chimney,’ Brewster Heights President Says

Associated Press

Sealed vents at the Brewster Heights Packing Co. caused the carbon monoxide poisoning that sickened 100 workers, a state investigator said Monday.

Vents in a dryer and water heater used on the plant’s apple-packing line were covered Friday, which prevented propane fumes from escaping the 25,000-square-foot packing room.

“It was like putting a lid on your chimney,” said Ed Pariseau, the plant president. “Although in that case you normally see smoke. In this case propane burns clean and you can’t see the vapors.”

It doesn’t appear there was any deliberate wrongdoing, said Department of Labor and Industries investigator Marty Weis.

Follow-up investigation will continue Tuesday, Pariseau said.

The vents were covered by fine mesh screens, he said. The screens are used to keep bugs out when the plant is packing cherries bound for Japan, Pariseau said. But no cherries were being packed Friday.

Pariseau considers the mishap an accident. No one will lose their job, he said.

“This isn’t a fault or guilt thing,” Pariseau said. “It’s just a freak thing - a timing thing. An employee probably assumed it was time to do this and was overzealous and not applying good common sense.

“And perhaps we are at fault for not being crystal clear on the protocol,” he said.

All 100 employees sent to a local hospital had been released by Monday. A pregnant woman treated in Seattle also was released.

“The only good thing about all this is we have seen where we need to tighten up our procedures now,” Pariseau said.

“This won’t happen again.”

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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