Cover photo by Scott Rogers
By Brian Martel
At a Georgia poultry plant Thursday morning, six workers were killed and another eleven were hospitalized after a liquid nitrogen leak. Three of the hospitalized workers are in critical condition.
The plant, located in Gainesville, was owned by Prime Pak Foods until early January, when the company merged with Victory Processing to form Foundation Food Group, which owns several poultry factories in Gainesville. The area is in the heart of the country’s poultry industry.
Since 2015, the plant has been fined at least $140,000 by Occupational Safety and Health Administration for about a dozen safety violations. In 2017, two employees lost fingers in separate incidents. There is currently an open investigation into the facility for an injury which occurred in December. The negligence in safety is a result of the owners cutting costs at the expense of the workers.
On Thursday morning, a line carrying liquid nitrogen, which is used to freeze chicken, ruptured. It leaked vaporized nitrogen which displaced breathable air as it moved through the facility. Direct exposure to liquid nitrogen can cause cryogenic burns and being in an enclosed space with nitrogen quickly leads to unconsciousness and death. There are common safety procedures for managing risk with refrigerants like liquid nitrogen, but these are often ignored by bosses in the name of profit.
Reports of burns were made immediately after the leak and 130 employees were evacuated. Five workers died inside the plant, and another died at the hospital. The Mexican government stated that two of those killed were Mexican citizens.
Identities of the victims have not been released, and many of the workers’ families don’t know the condition of their loved ones.
“We’re just praying he’s okay and he’s just one of the ones that’s injured,” one woman said about her uncle who was injured, “but we also know that could not be the case.”
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