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Aug 24, 2010 8:35 PM by Chris Welty

7 in Intensive Care After Ala. Plant Ammonia Leak

THEODORE, Ala. (AP) - Seven people remained hospitalized in
intensive care Tuesday as federal investigators sought the cause of
an ammonia leak a day earlier in a plant that freezes chickens.
An attorney for Millard Refrigerated Services, which operates
the coastal Alabama plant, said there had been no similar problems
at the site before.
About 130 people sought medical attention after a vapor c
ed respiratory problems for those in the
area, authorities said. The plant is located near an industrial
canal alongside Mobile Bay.
Four of those in intensive care were at the University of South
Alabama Medical Center and three more were at another medical
center. Officials said none appeared to have life-threatening
injuries but details of their conditions weren't released.
Theodore is a major staging area for Gulf oil spill recovery
workers south of Mobile and many of those taken to hospitals were
working on disaster response, authorities said.
Ammonia is a suffocating gas that can be fatal in high
concentrations and is particularly dangerous because its vapors are
heavier than air and hug the ground, according to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention. Along with breathing difficulties,
symptoms can include throat irritation, burns and blisters.
Doug Anderson, an attorney for Millard, said the facilit adn't
had problems with handling ammonia before.
"This is the first time," he said.
Millard has paid $11,375 in fines for nine workplace safety
violations at the plant since 2001, but none appeared to involve
the accidental release of chemicals, according to Occupational
Safety and Health Administration records.
Most recently, in 2007, the Omaha, Neb.-based company paid a
$5,100 fine after a worker was hurt in a machinery accident,
records show.
On Tuesday, federal officials were at the plant trying to
determine the cause of the leak.
"OSHA has opened an investigation," said OSHA spokesman
Michael D'Aquino in Atlanta.
Capt. Shaun Hicks of the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department said
private contractors had been called to remove the remaining liquid
ammonia that spilled inside the plant and to monitor for air
quality problems.
"Outside, the air is perfect," Hicks said Tuesday.

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