A GAS LEAK ATTRIBUTED TO FREON occurred earlier today at a Kellogg location in Battle Creek. According to news reports, the building was temporarily evacuated and more than 20 people were taken to local hospitals as a precautionary measure.
Freon is a registered trademark for a class of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC) commonly used as refrigerants. According to their material safety data sheets, CFCs and HCFCs are colorless, volatile, toxic liquids and gases with a faintly sweet ethereal odor. Overexposure at concentrations of 11% or more may cause dizziness, loss of concentration, central nervous system depression, and/or cardiac arrhythmia. Vapors from CFCs and HCFCs displace air and can cause asphyxiation in confined spaces due to oxygen deprivation. Although non-flammable, their combustion products include hydrofluoric acid and related compounds. A great deal of research has taken place to develop less toxic and flammable alternatives but to date, few suitable, general use alternatives to these substances have been found for refrigeration use.
When significant quantities of coolant are involved, a system for Refrigerant Monitoring would typically be required by the International Building and Fire Codes – which form the basis of most municipal building and fire codes across the United States. Depending on the specific coolant, the quantities of refrigerant in use and the design and configuration of the facility, the calculation of allowable concentrations in the event of a leak may require installation of an approved life safety system that activates audio and visual alarms, battery backup, automatic activation of ventilation systems and coolant shutoffs plus notification to building management systems and first-responders.
Finally, the codes are clear that if a Refrigerant Monitoring System is required, it must be inspected, calibrated and certified each year along with a report to the local fire official demonstrating full compliance with system design and operability per the applicable building codes and municipal law.
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