Six workers lost their lives due to a chemical leak of liquid nitrogen at a Gainesville, Ga.-based poultry plant owned by the Foundation Food Group on Jan. 28. A dozen other workers were hospitalized.
“Preliminary indications are that a nitrogen line ruptured inside the facility,” a company spokesperson said.
Liquid nitrogen is necessary for refrigeration systems in poultry plants, but a leak can prove fatal to those who breathe it in. According to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, leaked liquid nitrogen will vaporize into an odorless gas that can displace oxygen, thereby transforming normally breathable air into something deadly. U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) statistics reveal that 14 American workers died from asphyxiation linked to nitrogen in the past eight years before this incident.
Originally known as Prime Pak Foods, the plant changed its name recently when it moved under the umbrella of Foundation Food Group. The plant processes raw chicken into chicken fingers and individual chicken cuts for restaurants and food service operators, freezing partially cooked items until ready to be shipped.
Records show the plant has been cited by OSHA for violations four times in the past 10 years, but there were no previous safety violations concerning the refrigeration system.
Foundation Food Group posted a message to social media this weekend remembering the victims, though it gave no update about the incident itself. “We are deeply saddened by the loss of our friends and team members,” the company posted on its Facebook page. “Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and our community during this most difficult time. We ask you to join us as we grieve for their loved ones.”
In a news conference, Sheriff Gerald Couch of Hall County, who is working with OSHA, the state fire marshal, and sheriff deputies on the case, says he expects the investigation to be a lengthy process.