Costco in Santa Maria was evacuated and closed for about two hours Friday after a freon leak in a utility room.
Emergency crews were called to a potentially hazardous material incident at the store at 1335 S. Bradley Road at about 10:50 a.m., according to Battalion Chief Alan Widling of the Santa Maria Fire Department.
An employee from a refrigeration system contractor was investigating a temperature alarm in Costco’s meat cooling area at the time.
“In the process of doing that, they noticed some inconsistencies with their refrigerant system. As they were attempting to isolate a valve, four bolts sheared off the valve itself, and it started to release product,” Widling said, adding the leak was freon gas.
The main hazard from the freon is that it’s an asphyxiant because it displaces oxygen.
“The technician was able to exit the area of the leak. He was able to isolate a couple of valves to help control and contain the leak to the area to the refrigerant valving. He was exposed but not injured.”
The technician was evaluated at the scene by paramedics as a precaution. He continued to provide technical support to fire crews dealing with the incident, Widling noted
Santa Maria fire officials initiated a regional hazardous materials response while communicating with the Santa Barbara County hazmat team and environmental health experts, but downgraded the incident after further discussions.
“Due to the fact the hazard is simply an asphyxiant, we were able to deal with this, isolate the leak, and provide ventilation to the building to resolve the problem and allow the technician to make repairs to the system,” Widling said.
The leak occurred in an upstairs utility room near the rear of the building and away from the shopping area.
Firefighters estimated that about 200 people including customers and employees were evacuated.
“By the arrival of our first unit, the evacuation had been completed,” Widling said. “Costco management and employees executed their evacuation plan and things seemed to work very well. They were able to confirm that all occupants had been evacuated on our arrival which was an excellence response on the part of Costco.”
The store reopened by approximately 12:45 p.m.