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Ammonia Leak at NC Plant Kills 1 Employee, Injures 6 More

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By David Goguen on June 22, 2009 12:05 PM

An ammonia leak at a poultry processing plant in North Carolina killed one employee and injured half a dozen more over the weekend. It's the second high-profile workplace accident at a North Carolina food processing facility in recent weeks.

Saturday's ammonia leak at the Mountaire Farms poultry plant in Lumber Ridge, North Carolina killed 49 year-old mechanic Clifton Swain, injured at least six of his co-workers, and caused the evacuation of as many as 40 employees. Ammonia was released through a break in a high-pressure refrigeration line at the facility, which employs 2,500 workers, according to the North Carolina News & Observer.

Ammonia occurs naturally in the environment and is harmless at typical exposure levels. But at the high levels of exposure that can occur in certain types of industries and jobs, ammonia "may be irritating to your skin, eyes, throat, and lungs and cause coughing and burns. Lung damage and death may occur after exposure to very high concentrations of ammonia," according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The accident at the Mountaire Farms facility is the second large-scale workplace mishap at a food processing plant in North Carolina in recent weeks. On June 9, a natural gas explosion at a ConAgra food processing facility in Garner killed three employees and injured dozens more. Investigators believe that accident may have been triggered by a gas leak from a water heater that was being installed at the facility. Learn more: ConAgra Contractor Sued Over Plant Explosion.

In fact, the ConAgra explosion in Garner is currently keeping the U.S. Chemical Safety Board from investigating the Mountaire Farms accident, according to a story from WRAL Raleigh-Durham. The Chemical Safety Board , which investigates chemical accidents and works to improve chemical safety at the workplace, "has 20 investigators to cover the entire country," with "10 or 11 open investigations, including the June 9 explosion at the ConAgra Foods plant in Garner," according to WRAL.

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