The Centers for Disease Control released a report today saying that a Tyson poultry plant worker who poured a solution into a 55-gallon drum, releasing chlorine gas, could not read the English label on the drum that would have alerted him to its contents, but Tyson disputes the findings.
Six hundred workers were evacuated from the plant after the incident, on June 27, 2011, and of those 195 told the CDC they sought medical treatment, 152 were hospitalized and the plant nurse said five were admitted to intensive care units. The CDC said the event “underscores the danger posed by chlorine gas and the importance of employers providing adequate training and communication of health and safety precautions to employees.”
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health investigators also found that of the 523 workers at the plant during the chlorine release and 22 others who had been off work, 68 workers primarily spoke Marshallese and 15 spoke other languages. The worker who mixed the chemical — sodium hypochlorite — with the leftover acidic antimicrobial solution in the drum knew the mixture was dangerous, but, through a Spanish-language interpreter, said he couldn’t read the label. The drum was also not in a place where other such drums were usually placed.
In this morning’s story in the Washington Post, Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the CDC misidentified the worker responsible for the incident.
“Since mid-2011, we’ve put additional controls in place to limit access to chemicals in the plant and we’ve continued to emphasize training for those authorized to handle such chemicals,” Mickelson said in a statement.
He said NIOSH “incorrectly identifies the employee who accidentally mixed the chemicals as being Spanish-speaking. The worker responsible is not Hispanic and his primary language is English. In addition, this employee had previously received hazardous chemical training.”
“We believe he failed to look at the label on the drum,” Mickelson said. He said the company had left messages with several NIOSH officials regarding the discrepancy.
NIOSH spokeswoman Christina Spring said the agency stood by the report.
The CDC release is on the jump.