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Georgia Poultry Plant’s Nitrogen Leak Leaves Six People Dead

Michael Hirtzer and Fatima Hussein
·2 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Six people died after a nitrogen leak at the Foundation Food Group poultry plant in Gainesville, Georgia, on Thursday in the deadliest accident of its kind in years.

Five people died at the scene and one person died in a hospital emergency room, a spokesperson for Northeast Georgia Health System said by phone. Nine others were transported to the hospital, with three in critical condition.

“Preliminary indications are that a nitrogen line ruptured inside the facility,” Nicholas Ancrum, vice president of human resources at Foundation Food Group, said at a press conference. “Those lost today include maintenance, supervisory and management team members.”

The nitrogen leak may be the deadliest in Georgia and possibly the country since at least 2017, according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration records. Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch said his department was investigating the deaths and that the OSHA was on the scene.

Nitrogen asphyxiation has been connected to 53 deaths over the past 20 years, according to an OHSA database.

OSHA Investigation

OSHA said it won’t provide reports until the investigation is closed. The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board said it was deploying to the scene of the fatal chemical release, with two investigators arriving later Thursday. Board Chairwoman Katherine Lemos will be arriving on Friday.

“This is an unimaginable tragedy,” said Debbie Berkowitz, worker health and safety program director with the National Employment Law Project.

Three of the injured were Gainesville firefighters and another was a Hall County firefighter, Zachary Brackett of Hall County Fire Services said. Additionally, 130 people were transported by bus to a church for medical evaluation for potential respiratory issues.

Foundation Food Group was formed following the merger of Prime-Pak Foods Inc. and Victory Processing Inc., according to a company statement.

(Updates with OSHA statement in fifth paragraph)

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