Tyson disputes CDC findings on chlorine gas leak

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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SPRINGDALE, Ark. – Tyson Foods Inc. is disputing a report by the Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, which claims a chlorine gas leak that sickened almost 200 people in June 2011 occurred because of an employee language barrier.

Gary Mickelson, a Tyson spokesman, said the worker is a native English speaker who was able to read the label but didn’t.

The CDC, in conjunction with the National Institutes for Occupational Health (NIOSH), released its findings in the agency's Morbidity and Weekly Report:

"On June 27, 2011, a worker at a poultry processing plant in Arkansas began to pour sodium hypochlorite into a 55-gallon drum that contained residual acidic antimicrobial solution. When the sodium hypochlorite reacted with the solution, greenish-yellow chlorine gas was released into the small room where the drum was located and then spread into the plant, where approximately 600 workers were present. These workers promptly were evacuated."

CDC concluded that the leak occurred because the worker couldn’t read the English language label on the barrel of chemicals.

“The worker who inadvertently mixed the two solutions indicated that the drum was labeled in English but he could only read Spanish,” the report states. “This incident underscores the danger posed by chlorine gas and the importance of employers providing adequate training and communication of health and safety precautions to employees.”

Mickelson said the report misidentified the worker.

“The NIOSH study incorrectly identifies the employee who accidentally mixed the chemicals as being Spanish-speaking,” Mickelson said in a written statement. “The worker responsible is not Hispanic and his primary language is English. In addition, this employee had previously received hazardous chemical training.”

Mickelson added that the plant has had an emergency action plan in place that specifically addresses release situations like the one that occurred in June 2011. He said the plan worked effectively during the 2011 incident.

"While we do have a diverse workforce at this plant, we work hard to communicate with our team members, providing interpreters for those who may not be fluent in English," he sad. "The plant has a safety committee that involves management and hourly team members to make sure they understand safety-related matters."

Additionally, the report failed to mention the corrective actions taken by Tyson immediately after the accident, according to Mickelson.

"...we had Tyson nurses and chaplains stationed at local hospitals to provide support for the workers and their families. We also opened a temporary medical clinic at the Berry Street plant, which was staffed for two weeks to provide follow-up evaluations for affected team members. We also held a meeting with affected workers to give them information about the health effects of chlorine exposure. Tyson chaplains later provided numerous ‘Critical Incident Stress’ debriefing sessions to affected employees.

"Most of the affected team members were back on the job within a few days after the incident. About ten were off work for two weeks and two were off for six weeks. After the incident, we continued to send team members to other medical providers as requested by the primary physician, and we had an outside group offer respiratory testing (Pulmonary Function Tests) to the workers. To our knowledge, today only one of the affected team members continues to be treated for respiratory symptoms."

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