Atlanta | Reuters — At least six people were killed and 12 others hospitalized on Thursday in liquid nitrogen leak at a northeastern Georgia poultry plant, officials said.
Five people died at the Foundation Food Group plant in Gainesville, about 35 km northeast of Atlanta, before they could be taken to a hospital, and one died in the emergency room, the officials said. The accident occurred about 10 a.m., said Zach Brackett, a Hall County Fire Services spokesman.
Officials had previously referred to the plant under the name Prime Pak Foods, which changed Jan. 1.
The injured include four firefighters suffering respiratory ailments. About 130 other people were evacuated from the plant to a nearby church where they were medically evaluated, officials said.
Of the 12 people taken to local hospitals, officials said that three remain in critical condition, five are listed in fair condition and three others were treated an released.
Nicholas Ancrum, a spokesman for Foundation Food Group, said that it appears that a nitrogen line burst, but the cause is under investigation.
Last month, two workers at a Golden West Food Group plant in Los Angeles County lost consciousness and died following an apparent liquid nitrogen leak there, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Nitrogen, typically an inert gas, becomes a liquid when cooled to about -196 C, and is widely use in frozen food processing plants.
According to the University of Delaware, liquid nitrogen can expand rapidly into a gas about 700 times its liquid volume and can rapidly displace oxygen in the air and lungs. It can quickly cause unconsciousness and lethal asphyxiation. The supercooled substance can also cause severe tissue damage.
Foundation Food Group’s Gainesville plant takes raw chicken and processes it into such products as frozen chicken tenders and individual chicken cuts for restaurants and food service operations, Ancrum said.
Officials offered few other details on the accident. Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch said that all the bodies have been removed from the plant and authorities are working on identifications and notifying the families.
“This is a very tragic incident here today,” Couch said. “All these folks who came to work today didn’t expect something like this, so please keep them in your prayers.”
“It will take some time to determine the cause,” he said.
— Reporting for Reuters by Rich McKay in Altanta and Kanishka Singh in Bangalore.