Poultry Plant Under Inspection for Liquid Nitrogen, Ammonia Leaks

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On Jan. 28, a liquid nitrogen leak at a poultry processing plant in Gainesville, Ga. killed at least six workers while injuring another 12.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been actively investigating the incident and is now also looking into reports of an ammonia release that occurred on March 11, 2021. 

“OSHA is working methodically to complete its investigation and we want to hear from [employees] to ensure safe operations for all who work there,” said Acting Area Director Condell Eastmond in the Atlanta-East office, which has jurisdiction over the inspection.

 

Liquid Nitrogen Hazards 

 

Liquid nitrogen can build up pressure if contained in a closed system without a pressure relief vessel.

This can lead to leaks and explosions — although no explosion was reported at the Gainesville plant. 

In addition to pressure build-up and explosions, liquid nitrogen can also lead to these hazards:

  • Extreme Cold: Liquid nitrogen vapor can burn skin by rapidly freezing tissue. It can also result in frostbite and permanent eye damage. 
  • Asphyxiation: Liquid nitrogen can displace oxygen in the air. It is odorless and colorless, which means that it’s difficult to identify a leak. If the liquid nitrogen reduces the oxygen percentage below 19.5 percent there is a risk of oxygen deficiency leading to unconsciousness and even asphyxiation.
  • Oxygen Enrichment: When transferring liquid nitrogen, oxygen in the air surrounding a cryogen containment system can dissolve and create an oxygen-enriched environment. Since the boiling point of nitrogen is lower than oxygen, the liquid oxygen evaporates slower and may build up to levels that can increase the flammability of materials near the containment system. That’s why containment systems must be kept clear of combustible materials.  

 

Ammonia Hazards

 

Following the liquid nitrogen leak, fire services in Gainesville were called out to the plant on March 11 regarding a potential ammonia leak that authorities said was due to a refrigerant service called that day. 

Ammonia is another serious threat to health and safety if there is a leak. When released into the air, it rapidly expands into a cloud of dense gas. The ammonia vapors initially hug the ground, making the chance of human exposure much higher than with most other gases.

Symptoms of ammonia exposure include:

  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation;
  • respiratory difficulty and pain;
  • pulmonary edema;
  • and, burning and blistering.

At high concentrations, ammonia can be fatal.

The company said that, at the time, a professional refrigeration company performed a review on March 11 and found “no actionable levels of ammonia … and the plant was cleared of any potential risk to the company’s employees.”

OSHA stated that a complaint was made in regards to existing of hazards. The administration will address the complaint in accordance with its complaint and referral processing policy. 

Related Article: What to Know About CAARA & AMLA, and OSHA Whistleblower Protection

 

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