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Tyson Foods Employees Released From Benton County Hospitals After Ammonia Exposure Wednesday

by Scarlet Sims | December 12, 2014 at 1:30 a.m.
FILE PHOTO ANTHONY REYES • @NWATONYR Rogers firefighters and police officers work at the scene of an ammonia leak Wednesday at the Tyson Foods plant on Olrich Street in Rogers.

ROGERS -- All 25 Tyson Foods employees who went to hospitals Wednesday afternoon after possible exposure to ammonia at the Chick-N-Quick plant were discharged the same night, spokeswomen at Mercy Hospital and Northwest Medical Health System said Thursday.

All patients complained of respiratory-type symptoms, including shortness of breath and swallowing difficulties, according to Jessica Eldred, Mercy spokeswoman. Firefighters said Wednesday injuries weren't critical.

At A Glance

2013 Leak

The last leak at Chick-N-Quick was in August 2013, led to the evacuation of about 350 employees, and sent one employee to the hospital with respiratory problems.

Source: Staff Report

All but one employee were cleared to work Thursday, said Worth Sparkman, Tyson spokesman.

Ammonia is used as a cooling agent at the plant, 400 W. Olrich St. Exposure can cause respiratory problems, and a high concentration can be fatal, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of people who complained about injuries Wednesday jumped from one to five, then to more than 20 in a matter of two hours. Symptoms sometimes don't immediately appear after exposure to ammonia, Tom Jenkins, fire chief said Wednesday.

At 3:32 p.m. Wednesday, Rogers Central Dispatch took a call reporting a 40-year-old woman was unconscious at the plant, according to information provided Thursday by Keith Foster, Police Police spokesman. In the following minutes, firefighters learned about the ammonia exposure, and five patients waiting on the east side of the Tyson Distribution Center.

The Fire Department took 12 people to the hospital with symptoms including vomiting, nausea, dizziness, itchy throat, watery eyes, burning throat, fainting and difficulty breathing, according to the department's report.

Thirteen employees went to Mercy, Eldred said, and seven to Northwest Medical Center-Bentonville, said Pat Driscoll, spokeswoman. Five more walked in to Mercy on their own, Eldred said.

The Fire Department report shows ammonia exposure happened after roof-maintenance workers got the chemical into the air conditioning unit and exposed part of the occupied facility. Sparkman said Wednesday the incident was a "smell" and readings showed "ammonia was not detected in the environment."

"A small amount of ammonia was released into the atmosphere outside the plant," Sparkman said Thursday. "The smell was drawn into the plant and that triggered the evacuation."

About 250 employees were evacuated Wednesday, but the entire plant didn't evacuate. The surrounding neighborhood wasn't evacuated either, but residents were notified of the ammonia leak through a reverse 911 call, according to the Fire Department report.

The plant returned to operation between 6 and 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sparkman said. He said Tyson representatives will look at the incident to find ways to prevent future accidents and ammonia exposure.

"No one wants anything like this to happen, but they sometimes do, so we prepare and train for emergencies," Sparkman said.

NW News on 12/12/2014

Print Headline: 25 Released From Hospitals After Ammonia Exposure


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