Ammonia leak shuts Smithfield plant down

TAR HEEL — The Smithfield Foods plant in Tar Heel suffered its second ammonia leak in 16 months on Monday and caused the plant to be evacuated.

Bladen County Emergency Management Director Bradley Kinlaw told the Bladen Journal the evacuation took place at about 1:20 a.m.

Kathleen Kirkham, a spokesman with Smithfield Foods office in Smithfield, Va., said, “Early this morning (Monday), there was an ammonia leak at our Tar Heel facility. The leak has been handled and no injuries were reported, but employees were evacuated as a precautionary measure. Operations are expected to resume this afternoon.”

Kinlaw said Smithfield Foods has the capacity to respond to certain emergencies at the plant.

“They basically handled it internally. They have their own HazMat team,” said Kinlaw.

He added that Bladen County Emergency Management was not notified until the traffic began to back up on N.C. 87.

Kinlaw said the ammonia leak saturated the inside of the building, which forced an evacuation of the employees. He said first shift was cancelled and the building had to ventilated to bring the ammonia levels back down to zero.

He said that he was unaware of any reported injuries and the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office and N.C. Highway Patrol helped with traffic control during the incident.

Messages left for Smithfield spokespersons Kirkham and Dennis Pittman seeking updates as to the cause of the leak and potential damages to the plant were unreturned as of press time.

The plant suffered an ammonia leak in June 2014 when a water tank collapsed and caused a rush of water that caused compressors and other equipment to be knocked around. That leak forced the evacuation of about 2,000 employees and kept the plant closed for a portion of the week.

According to reports, the plant also suffered an ammonia leak in 2012 in which six workers inhaled fumes and five of those had to be hospitalized.

Ammonia is used primarily as a refrigerant in the processing plant, according to the Smithfield Foods website.

The company employs about 4,833 at its Tar Heel location, according to the Smithfield Foods website, and the plant has the capacity to process more than 32,000 hogs per day.

Erin Smith can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.

By Erin Smith


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