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Multiple failures blamed for fatal nitrogen leak

USA: A number of equipment and process failures have been blamed for a fatal liquid nitrogen refrigerant release at a food processor in Gainesville, Georgia.

The incident in January 2021 at the Foundation Food Group (FFG) facility led to the deaths of six people and seriously injured four others, including a firefighter who attended the scene.

The report by the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) identifies a number of equipment and process failures at the facility, a poultry processing operation that used liquid nitrogen to quickly freeze prepared poultry food products.  

The CSB’s final report found that the liquid nitrogen release was caused by the failure of the liquid nitrogen control system in a freezer room due to a bent “bubbler tube”. The bent tube allowed the room to fill with an unsafe level of liquid nitrogen that quickly vaporised into a 4-5ft high deadly cloud.

The CSB’s report concluded that the bubbler tube likely was bent during maintenance in the freezer room. The report also determined that the severity of the incident was worsened by FFG’s inadequate emergency preparedness, which resulted in at least 14 employees entering the freezer room or the surrounding area to investigate the incident or attempt to rescue coworkers. FFG had also failed to install air monitoring and alarm devices that could have alerted workers about the hazardous vapour cloud and warned them against entering the freezer room.

After the incident, FFG sold the facility to Gold Creek Foods, which does not now have liquid nitrogen freezing processes in the building where the incident occurred.

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