Tommy Tsitouris, vice president of Sharp Holding, Inc., the owner of the South Charleston IHOP restaurant, issued the following statement:
An accident occurred at our restaurant this morning that required the assistance of first responders. Most importantly, the safety and well-being of our guests and employees is always our first concern and I am happy to report that team members and guests involved were treated and released and injuries were minor. Our thanks to the first responders. The restaurant is open and we are operating normal hours.
We have worked with authorities to determine how this happened and are satisfied that we understand what occurred. A change in supplier of cleaning materials resulted in an accidental mishandling. That has been corrected and procedures revised. We have every confidence in our training procedures and systems, as evidenced by the fact a problem like this has not occurred in the past and the restaurant has a solid safety record. We are grateful that this was not more serious and thank the first responders for their excellent handling of the situation.
Again, the restaurant is open and we are operating normal hours.
UPDATE 5/2/12 @ 1:40 p.m.
SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP & WSAZ) -- Federal regulators are proposing $25,000 in civil penalties against IHOP Restaurants stemming from a chlorine incident at a restaurant that sickened nine workers.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Wednesday that it cited the company for five alleged serious safety and health violations at the South Charleston restaurant.
They include failure to conduct a personal protective equipment hazard assessment, and failure to provide training, eye protection, eye wash facilities and material safety data sheets for chemicals used in the workplace.
South Charleston fire officials have said chlorine fumes dispersed throughout the building Feb. 17 when workers mixed bleach and a cleaning agent together in a sink area.
IHOP's West Virginia director of operations, John Whittington, said he hasn't yet reviewed the citations and couldn't comment.
Emergency crews say an employee accidentally mixed bleach with a de-limer product Friday morning, creating a chemical cloud that resulted in nine people going to the hospital.
Customer Cassey Bias says she and others were told to leave without any idea they could end up getting sick.
Bias had stopped at the restaurant with her daughter after an ultrasound and was preparing to leave.
"You could smell the chlorine. So, we started covering our mouths and got out as quickly as we could," she says.
She waited outside to find out what was going on and heard an employee talking.
She was "just standing there listening, and (the employee) talked to the lady that I guess was in charge. I don't know if she was a manager ... and he was like, 'What happened? What was that?' And, she was like, 'You need to shut up.' "
Bias says, "They didn't ask if any one of us (was) OK. They were just like, you need to leave."
At that point, emergency crews were still on their way, so no customers had been checked out.
"And we actually passed them. They hadn't even made it yet. They did make it very quick, but that's how fast they got us off the property," Bias says.
She eventually got a headache, while her daughter, Kiersten, ended up with a sore throat.
They went to the emergency room to get checked out.
But, Bias says she’s frustrated customers were told to leave without getting a chance to find out what happened or what potential symptoms they could experience.
"The whole trip home, I'm like, this is not right. They should have made sure that we were OK," she says.
Tommy Tsitouris, vice president of Sharp Holding, Inc., the owner of the South Charleston IHOP restaurant, said he had no knowledge of customers being told to leave the area.
Tsitouris said, "We certainly didn't ask anyone to leave the parking lot. Our primary concern was getting everyone to safety out of the building."
Bias says she and her daughter started feeling better later Friday evening.
The incident was reported about 9 a.m. Friday at the IHOP at Trace Fork, just off Corridor G.
During a news conference, firefighters said an employee accidentally mixed two chemicals that were chlorine based and mixed them in a sink, causing the hazmat situation. Firefighters said the two chemicals were bleach and de-limer. Experts say when the two chemicals are combined they cause chlorine gas.
Firefighters tell WSAZ.com this could have been a deadly situation.
The restaurant was evacuated as soon as employees realized what happened.
Firefighters tell WSAZ.com when they arrived on scene a woman was semi conscious and not breathing. However, she was alert and conscious when she was taken the hospital.
About 11 a.m. Friday only one of the nine people taken to the hospital was very sick. However, we've been told all nine of the victims have been treated and released from Thomas Memorial.
Emergency crews are concerned more people could become sick from the incident because when the restaurant was evacuated several customers jumped in their vehicles and left.
Firefighters say these customers should watch for symptoms, including shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting. If any of customers show these symptoms they're urged to seek medical treatment.
No IHOP employees were allowed to do an on-camera interview, but WSAZ.com was told the company will issue a statement later today.
Firefighters say mixing the wrong chemical is not an uncommon mistake. However, firefighters say its more common to happen in home garages, not businesses or restaurants.
No charges or citations will be issued.
Emergency crews are still ventilating the restaurant to make sure its safe to reopen. There's no word if IHOP will reopen today.
Trace Fork is open to other businesses in the area. IHOP was the only business closed.
We're still on the scene. Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for more information.
Right now, emergency crews have the entrances and exits blocked.
Kanawha County 911 Dispatchers tell WSAZ.com two cleaning chemicals at the restaurant were mixed together causing the restaurant to be evacuated.
Nine people have been taken to the hospital, but emergency crews at the scene tell WSAZ.com the injuries are not life threatening. Employees were the only ones who were hurt. No customers were injured.
Hazmat teams are on the scene, along with several local fire departments and the Regional Command Center.
We have a crew at the scene. However, they have been asked to station at the TGI Friday's about a block away from the restaurant.
Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.
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