Monroe– Eleven Union County Department of Social Services and Human Services employees were sent to the hospital after a strange smell took over their offices in Monroe on Thursday, Aug. 14.
The 11 employees who suffered from headaches, dizziness or nausea were sent to Carolinas Medical Center-Union, where they were treated and released. None of the employees needed to be hospitalized overnight, and all of them were back at work the following day, said Brett Vines, public information officer for Union County. All other employees were sent home, and the building was closed for the day.
An investigation found that two large grease bins near the building’s HVAC unit were causing the odor.
The Monroe Fire Department’s HAZMAT team tested the building for any potential danger of an explosion before deeming it safe. Soon the grease bins, which were left over from a restaurant that had closed down in an attached building a month earlier, were found to be the cause.
When someone moved the bins on the morning of the incident, the smell stirred up and was carried into the building by the HVAC unit, said Danny Smith, assistant fire chief.
“It’s not particularly hazardous, but it’s a very pungent smell,” Smith said.
Smith had never seen something like this happen in his career, but said he’d suggest businesses stay aware of how their food waste or trash is kept outside in relation to any air system.
Once the Monroe Fire Department (MFD) confirmed that the building was clear of any serious danger, city gas employees used more sensitive monitors to be sure that nothing potentially hazardous to anyone’s health was left lingering.
The building was cleared, and the MFD spent an hour or two moving air through the building until no one on the scene could smell the odors, Smith said.