Shock and ow! Shoppers charge it at Giant

Customers are getting a charge out of shopping at the new Giant grocery store on Pantops. Literally.

The Hook recently heard several reports of shoppers who had received shocks from the metal shelving and coolers, and indeed, when we went to check it out, confirmation came quickly and painfully.

In fact, when this reporter shopping with two children accidentally held a metal cart while touching the milk freezer, both hands were simultaneously zapped and the baby in the front carrier began to wail.

A few aisles later, another shock. This time, a manager witnessed the event. "We don't know what the problem is," he offered apologetically. "We're having experts check it out; we think it could be electricity generated from disturbing the earth during construction of the store."

Could disturbing the earth really cause lingering shock waves?

Guy Cohen, owner of mechanical contracting firm Beck-Cohen, says that if the charge in the store resulted from "disturbing the earth," it would be a magnetic charge, not an electrical charge. "Go up there with a compass," he suggests. "If it points north in error, you've got your answer." (We did it, and the compass seemed to work just fine.)

More likely than the magnetic charge theory, then, is that the store is improperly grounded. "If you have errant voltage," Cohen muses, "it could energize the shelves" and other metal in the store.

But what about simple static electricity? Possible, but Cohen thinks that's less likely. Static shocks result when people discharge the electricity built up in their bodies from friction (i.e. shuffling on a carpet). In a store with a linoleum or concrete floor, friction, says Cohen, shouldn't be an issue.

Whether Cohen's take on the shocking situation matches Giant's findings is impossible to say. Giant spokesperson Jamie Miller says the company is looking into the problem internally, using its own maintenance staff. While he acknowledges that there have been numerous complaints, he declines to offer any specific explanation, or to put us in touch with maintenance.

While Giant seeks to remedy the situation, should shoppers particularly those with pacemakers– worry about their health?

Liza Prudente, device coordinator in UVA's cardiology department, says an electric shock could "momentarily alter" a pacemaker's function. But, she says, as soon as the shock was over, the device would go back to normal function. If someone were concerned that their pacemaker or defibrillator had been adversely affected, Prudente says, they should call their physician. But most likely, she adds, "it's not a life-threatening situation."

Life-threatening or not, it's certainly unpleasant. To avoid being shocked, Cohen says shoppers should be certain they are not touching metal on their cart when reaching for a metal shelf.

If you choose to ignore his advice, you just may find yourself doing an impromptu version of the electric slide.

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