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Natural gas smell causes evacuation

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By Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald

A suspicious smell thought to be a natural gas leak at Metaltech, a Sumner business, prompted an evacuation of three businesses Friday.

East Pierce Fire and Rescue received the report of the smell at 9:24 a.m. and were on the scene within five minutes according to East Pierce interim Chief John McDonald.

Metaltech is a metal fabricator located at 1907 Fryar St.

Robin Wagner, an employee of Metaltech, said workers began smelling the gas odor at 9:15 a.m.

“We started checking around then we called the fire department,” Wagner said.

Puget Sound Energy was contacted to shut off the natural gas to the business.

The leak was found to be from a small propane tank.

While East Pierce crews were at the Metaltech site, an employee of Exide Battery located next door asked to be evaluated.

The crews found elevated levels of carbon monoxide and at about 10:30 a.m. called for the Pierce County Hazardous Incident Team to evaluate the scene.

McDonald said the initial readings for carbon monoxide were 75 parts per million inside the Exide building. He said “the level of concern begins at readings above 35 parts per million. Several other readings came in at 125 parts per million.”

Exide, Metaltech and Investco Financial Corporation, which is near the two business, were evacuated while the Pierce County team entered the Exide building trying to identify the source of the problem. About 50 people were evacuated.

McDonald said 11 people reported headaches and one was transported to an area hospital.

The hazardous material team in level A suits entered Exide and found the source to be hydrogen gas, not carbon monoxide. Hydrogen gas is part of the battery production process.

East Pierce officials said hydrogen gas will confuse meters used to detect leaks, causing a false carbon monoxide reading.

The building was ventilated and employees were allowed to return at 3 p.m.

More than 50 fire, emergency and police personnel responded to the scene.

Reach Dennis Box at dbox@courierherald.com or 360-802-8209.

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