TAR HEEL —A vapor cloud caused by two chemicals accidentally mixing at the Smithfield Packing Plant in Tar Heel forced plant officials to evacuate the plant along with nearby residences on Monday morning.
The incident was reported at about 3:30 a.m. after the two chemicals — sodium hypochlorite and acid — mixed during a cleaning process inside the plant. The vapor cloud was contained within one area of the building
Employees were evacuated immediately and several residences located across N.C. 87 from the plant were evacuated within an hour. Seven Smithfield employees were transported to the hospital with minor injuries. According to company officials, the employees were allowed back in the plant at about 8:15 a.m. Monday.
“Smithfield’s Tar Heel facility is now fully operational following an incident involving the mixing of cleaning chemicals,” said Kathleen Kirkham, director of corporate communications in Smithfield, Va. “The safety of our employees and of the local community is our top priority, and all seven individuals who were sent to the local hospital for observation have since been released.”
Bladen County Emergency Services Director Bradley Kinlaw said the incident appeared to be accidental, but he didn’t know how it occurred.
The North Carolina Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Division is reportedly investigating Monday’s incident to determine how the chemical mixture happened.
Although employees at Smithfield were allowed back in the facility Monday morning, efforts to ventilate the building continued into the afternoon.
Kinlaw said emergency crews responding included Tar Heel Fire Department, Tobermory Fire Department, Dublin Fire Department, Elizabethtown Fire Department, White Oak Fire Department, Bladenboro Fire Department, Tar Heel EMS, Bladenboro EMS, Bladen County EMS, Cape Fear Valley EMS, Robeson EMS, Bladen County Sheriff’s Office, North Carolina State Highway patrol, Bladen County Emergency Management, Cumberland County Emergency Management, North Carolina Emergency Management, and Fayetteville Fire Department (Haz-Mat).
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.