30.6.04

Exploding Vending Machine

Freakish things and people are plentiful--all over the world.
HOUSTON (Reuters) - An exploding vending machine turned the coolant freon into phosgene, a poisonous gas used as a chemical weapon in World War One, and forced the evacuation of 10 people from a Texas hospital, officials said on Thursday.

A food service employee was working on the refrigerated soft drink machine at the Park Place Medical Center in Port Arthur, Texas, when a small explosion and fire occurred inside it on Wednesday morning, Port Arthur Fire Marshal Mark Mulliner said.

"When freon gas from the cooling system came into contact with the heat from the fire, it changed composition to a phosgene gas," Mulliner said.

Phosgene irritates the lungs, eyes, mouth and nose and, in strong enough concentrations, causes fatal amounts of fluid to build up in the lungs.

Ten people on the third floor of the hospital were evacuated for several hours while the area was ventilated, said Heather Ross of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Two firefighters were kept in the hospital overnight for observation, Ross said.

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