December 15, 2017

Tyson Blasts CDC Report On Chlorine Leak

Tyson Foods Inc. is blasting a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about an accident involving a chlorine gas leak at the company’s plant in Springdale Ark., in June 2011.

The incident occurred when a worker at the poultry processing plant began to pour sodium hypochlorite into a 55-gallon drum that contained residual acidic antimicrobial solution. When the two chemicals reacted, a greenish-yellow cloud of chlorine gas was released. Eventually, the toxic gas spread throughout the plant where 600 workers were on the job.

The plant was immediately evacuated, but not before some workers were injured. Chlorine is a respiratory irritant that can produce mild symptoms such as eye, nose, and throat irritation or severe symptoms such as lung inflammation which can lead to death, according to the CDC. Almost one third of the workers on duty sought medical treatment after the incident, 152 were hospitalized and five were admitted to intensive-care units.

While Tyson does not dispute the CDC’s account of what happened, it does dispute the agency’s report of why it happened. “The worker who began to pour sodium hypochlorite into the drum that had contained an acidic antimicrobial solution did not recognize the drum, had limited English skills, and was unable to read the label on the drum that had been inadvertently left in the wrong place,” the CDC report states.

Spanish was the primary language for 68 percent of the employees at the plant and Marshallese was the primary language for 12 percent of plant employees, according to the CDC. These numbers are slightly higher than industry averages for slaughterhouse workers of whom, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,  38.1% of workers were Hispanic or Latino and 8.6% were Asian in 2011.

The report goes on to point out that  “an estimated 30 million adults with below basic literacy skills often are working in dangerous jobs.” Yet most safety materials for the industry are written at college reading levels.

“While we do have a diverse workforce at this plant, we work hard to communicate with our team members, providing interpreters for those who may not be fluent in English. The plant has a safety committee that involves management and hourly team members to make sure they understand safety-related matters,” Tyson said in a press release issued in response to the CDC report.

The study, “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.”

Tyson concludes its response by saying that most of injured workers “were back on the job within a few days after the incident. About ten were off work for two weeks and two were off for six weeks,” the company said. “To our knowledge, today only one of the affected team members continues be treated for respiratory symptoms.”

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