A rotten day of work

Starbucks workers feel sick after hours of smelling gas combined with constant work.

Anika Besst and Audra Grigus

Alarmed by the rising flames in the Anderson fireplace and odd smell in the air, Starbucks employees feared they were experiencing a gas leak, which led to being left in the dark by those they looked to for guidance. 

On Thursday, Oct. 22nd around 10:00 a.m., Hamline’s Starbucks workers reported the smell of “rotten eggs and rotten water.”

“It [was] kind of in our backroom, kind of behind one of our fridges in the back of Starbucks,” an anonymous worker said. “We reported it right away because we didn’t know what it was. We thought it might have actually been rotten water or a leak, but then one of my coworkers looked it up and they were like this is what a gas leak could smell like.”

As time went by, those working began feeling headaches, two employees felt nauseous and dizzy, and two felt sick to their stomach. After nearly two hours, they stopped smelling what was described as a natural gas type smell, and their symptoms began to go away. 

“I have no record of Public Safety being notified of the situation,” said Melinda Heikkinen, director of Public Safety. “If they had been called, my team would have conducted a medical assist to make sure the students were okay.”

Starbucks notified one of their higher-ups, Director of Dining Services Courtney Cawthon, of the smell. This urged Dining Services staff to inspect the situation. They informed the Starbucks staff they would make calls, but and the staff heard nothing and saw no one after that. 

“I was surprised they weren’t given the option to close, even if it was just for thirty minutes, because everyone that was there was feeling sick,” junior and student worker Crystal Camacho said. “They were not checked on, no message was given back to us.” 

During this time frame, a couple of employees’ shifts ended and other’s began. The incoming employees, Camacho being one of them, began experiencing symptoms that were less severe and did not last as long. 

“How many times have we unfortunately been put into these weird, sticky situations where we were potentially put into harm’s way, but our main priority is still supposed to be [working here] and making your coffee,” Camacho said. 

Facilities did not confirm a source of the smell or a possible leak., sSpeculation from Heikkinen is that it was from the Anderson fireplace or delivery truck fumes from the Anderson loading dock.

“We are working closely with Public Safety to thoroughly investigate what people were experiencing inside and what was happening physically in the building and building systems including the fireplace operation,” said Ken Dehkes, director of facilities operations. “As a precaution, the fireplace will not be operated until it is reviewed by qualified mechanical service vendors.”

Beyond the possible problems inside the building, facilities are working to backtrack and find out why proper communication on the situation was not conducted. Dehkes hopes to have conclusive answers in the next week or two.

Heikkinen urges anyone on campus to call Public Safety anytime gas is smelled. They will check the source, evacuate the building if necessary and coordinate the appropriate response.