Toxic Chemical Leak at Factory Causes Poultry Workers to Quit

Workers at the Mountaire Farms poultry plant in rural Robeson County, North Carolina, are quitting after a strange chemical leak was introduced into their factory. 

The chemical was first realized about four months ago– when factory workers said that there was a sharp, suffocating kind of odor that one worker said felt like it “invaded your brain” that waded through their production area. 

A worker at the factory described the chemical as “a burning in your nasal cavity.” 

“Whatever it is, it gives us headaches and it makes us sneeze. It causes a lot of mucus and it makes it feel like your throat is cracking. It’s something in the water with the chickens because if the mist gets in your eyes, it stings like acid,” the worker added.

Records from the North Carolina Department of Labor (NC DOL) describe Mountaire Farms’ Lumber Bridge plant as the largest facility processing large chickens in the world, slaughtering approximately 540,000 chickens per day.

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In 2009, a fatal ammonia gas leak at the plant killed one worker and seriously injured three others. In 2015, the company was implicated in a salmonella outbreak in two states, after one of its distributors traced the pathogen’s source to two truckloads of raw chicken parts it received from Mountaire.

As of now, even though Mountaire workers say they are being exposed to an unidentified chemical in what they call “overwhelming doses” over long shifts, they said that the company has still not told them what the chemical is, the potential hazards it poses to their health—and how to protect themselves during exposure.  

The workers say that being exposed to new chemical workers can’t identify, in doses that feel to them unusually high isn’t part of the job.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires employers to provide a workplace free from hazards that can cause death or serious physical harm to employees.

Dr. Howard Hu, a specialist in occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, says, “It’s critical that the identity of the chemical and the levels of exposure are known. That information should be available to them.

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In fact, the OSHA Act includes a provision called ‘the right to know,’ which basically says the employer needs to keep the so-called material safety data sheet on file for every chemical that is used in the plant, and that information needs to be available on request,” He added.

On October 4, Mountaire workers told the Counter that those on the second shift—which begins around 5:30 p.m.—still experience symptoms related to the chemical, depending on the line they’re working.

Stay updated with more news here at the East County Gazette.

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