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KUSA - A total of 17 people were treated for respiratory issues, eye irritation and vomiting after exposure to an unknown chemical at Oskar Blues restaurant in Longmont.

The Longmont Police Department, fire department and a fire HAZMAT team responded to the restaurant at 1555 South Hover Road around 12:40 p.m. Sunday.

Investigators say 24 employees and customers were exposed to the chemical. Seventeen people were transported by ambulance to area hospitals. Eight were taken to Longmont United Hospital in Longmont. Nine others were taken to Good Samaritan Hospital in Lafayette.

They were treated for various issues that included respiratory complaints, eye irritation and vomiting. Other employees and patrons were decontaminated and evaluated at the scene.

Early readings from HAZMAT equipment indicated a possible refrigerant leak, but investigators now say that's not the cause. They believe a defective 200 gallon water heater caused the problem. The hot water has been malfunctioning causing it to attempt to light over and over again. Firefighters suspect the exhaust which contains products of incomplete combustion were being recirculated through a nearby evaporative cooler right above the fryer area where the employees had been working.

The restaurant will be stay closed until repairs can be made.

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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