Personal Injury

Freon leak eyed as culprit in Eastdale mall employee death

Eastdale Mall in Montgomery, Alabama, reopened last night at 6 p.m. after inspectors found it posed no risk to the general public. The mall closed on Sunday after the body of 22-year-old employee Nicholas Burdette was found in the bathroom near the mall’s skating rink. Some mall employees and others familiar with the mall’s facilities believe that Burdette was killed by a Freon leak around the Ice Palace skating rink that allegedly has made others sick in the past.

Burdette was employed by Professional Management Services, Inc., a company contracted by Eastdale Mall to provide janitorial services.

Inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration continue to investigate the mall for possible safety violations while police and family members await Burdette’s autopsy results. Currently the investigations are focused on possible connections between Burdette’s death and a leak of R-22 refrigerant used to maintain the skating rink’s ice.

R-22 is a common refrigerant that has been used in residential and commercial heating and cooling systems for decades. Its use is being gradually phased out in the United States and many other countries because it has been linked to ozone depletion. While the chemical evaporates in open spaces, it will deplete the oxygen in smaller, closed areas such as a bathroom. Anyone exposed to high concentrations of the refrigerant can easily be asphyxiated before they know anything is wrong.

Officials told WSFA News of Montgomery that Eastdale Mall is already under another ongoing OSHA investigation prompted by a complaint involving two other Professional Management Services employees.

Duanna Overton, whose two sons work for Professional Management Services at the mall, filed the complaint with OSHA after 2 other employees were taken to the hospital and treated for illnesses caused by low blood oxygen levels. She told WSFA that the skating rink’s cooling system isn’t managed properly.

“At that time they fixed the freon compressor, but they did not fix the oil compressor, which will cause a brand-new Freon compressor to mess up because the two mix … If one is messed up, it messes up the other,” Overton told WSFA.

She also asserted that the mall’s ice skating rink hasn’t been the same since and that two more leaks have occurred since March.

Another Professional Management Services employee who was cleaning glass at the ice rink Sunday morning told WSFA that she felt dizzy and had a headache around the same time Burdette entered the bathroom and never came out. She believes she was exposed to Freon and resigned after Burdette’s body was found.

“For about the past week the ice has been melting on one side [of the ice rink],” the former employee told WSFA.