ATLANTA - Leaking carbon dioxide in the bathroom of a McDonald's restaurant in south Georgia caused the death of an 80-year-old woman last week and sickened nine others, authorities said on Wednesday.
The leak, in a restaurant in Pooler, Georgia, occurred in reinforced plastic tubing that connected the establishment's carbon dioxide cylinder to the soda machines, Pooler Fire Chief Wade Simmons told Reuters.
Investigators testing the line found "very high levels of carbon dioxide getting into the bathroom, in the walls," Simmons said.
The 80-year-old woman from Florida died on Thursday, hours after she was overcome by fumes in the bathroom. She was one of two women whom emergency workers found unconscious there, Simmons said.
A total of 10 people, including three firefighters, went to the hospital after being sickened by the fumes in the bathroom. Simmons said McDonald's employees had no idea the line was leaking.
"The lines go into the walls, and they up go into the ceilings," he said. Similar leaks have occurred at restaurants in other cities, he added.
The Pooler restaurant was reopened after the incident, but the bathroom was sealed during the investigation, the fire chief said. He said he planned to explore new safety measures, such as reinforcing the lines and improving ventilation, to prevent future deaths and injuries.
McDonald's is committed to providing a safe environment for customers, said Lee Renz, chief restaurant officer for McDonald's USA.
"We have safety protocols in place for all of our restaurants," Renz said in a statement. "While this was an isolated set of circumstances, we are investigating this situation and reviewing our procedures, as well as those of our suppliers, to ensure the highest safety of our restaurants."
(Edited by Colleen Jenkins and Cynthia Johnston)