One fast-food worker has died and several people have been hospitalized after a chemical reaction involving a cleaning agent on Thursday at a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in Burlington, Mass.
Firefighters say the victims were exposed to sodium hypochlorite, a powerful cleaning agent that reacts strongly to certain acids. The product is commercially known as Super 8.
“What we believed happened is a worker at Buffalo Wild Wings used a cleaning agent on the floor,” assistant fire chief Michael Patterson told reporters.
The employee complained of nausea after breathing in the fumes and stepped outside, according to Patterson. Another employee tried to clean up the substance with a squeegee but was overcome by the fumes, Patterson said. The second employee was rushed to hospital, where he later died.
Officials ordered an evacuation at the restaurant around 6 p.m., and investigators had to go into the building wearing hazmat suits.
A total of two customers and eight employees at the restaurant fell ill in addition to the person who died. They were taken to hospital, but the cases were not serious, Patterson said.
“We were just sitting at the bar, and the smell of ammonia and chlorine came over us, and a bunch of people started coughing,” customer Jim Jorefice told NBC News. “At first, I just thought it was the dishwasher, someone poured some chemicals down, but then it got stronger and stronger.”
Sodium hypochlorite can react “violently” with strong acids, and some reactions will produce chlorine gas, according to its Material Safety Data Sheet.
It’s unclear whether the chemical was mixed with something else.
“This is a product that we’ve been told is a common product used in floor cleaning,” Patterson said. “For some reason tonight, there was just a reaction that led to this.”
Buffalo Wild Wings mourned the employee’s death in a statement to NBC News.
“We are shocked and saddened to learn of this horrific accident at our franchise-owned sports bar and are working closely with our franchisee and the authorities while they conduct an investigation,” the restaurant chain said in its statement.
The restaurant will remain closed until the investigation is complete.