By Andrew Wroblewski
Seven carbon monoxide poisonings were reported Wednesday morning at the Panera Bread in the Walt Whitman Shops, Suffolk police said.
The poisonings, police said, were caused by a piece of machinery that “emitted exhaust and vented” into the Panera Bread, causing elevated levels of carbon monoxide. The machinery was being operated in an adjoining space, the former location of Legal Seafoods restaurant, which is being worked on for a new tenant.
Legal Seafoods restaurant was closed following a Feb. 22, 2014 incident during which a carbon monoxide leak originating from a water heater killed restaurant manager Steven Nelson, and sickened dozens of other people. Police said the origin of Wednesday’s leak “was not the same as” the 2014 incident.
The seven people affected by the leak at Panera Bread were transported to Huntington Hospital by the Huntington Community First Aid Squad, which responded to the scene with police and the Huntington Manor Fire Department.
All seven victims were treated for treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms, which include a dull headache, weakness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, dizziness and difficult breathing. They were released from Huntington Hospital before 12 noon, said Alexandra Zendrian, a Huntington Hospital spokeswoman.
Town of Huntington spokesman A.J. Carter said Wednesday that the town responded to the scene with a building inspector and Chief Fire Marshal Terence McNally. He said the gas leak was caused by a malfunctioning vibration tamper, a gas-powered piece of equipment.
“Once the machine was turned off, windows were opened and the space was vented, the carbon monoxide levels went down to zero,” Carter said. Panera Bread was not yet open to the public when the leak was reported, but it did open by 12 noon.
Carter added that the town issued summonses to both subcontractor Blackhawk Industries and general contractor Shawmut Design and Construction “for creating a dangerous and unsafe condition.
“This is a violation of the Town of Huntington Fire Code, and it’s publishable by a fine of between $500-$2000,” he said.
Carter added both parties were also directed “not to use any fossil-fuel burning equipment within the confines of the building.”