By Nick Watson
GAINESVILLE, Ga. — The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board said Monday, Feb. 1 that unplanned maintenance was happening Jan. 28 at the Foundation Food Group production line where liquid nitrogen was released resulting in the deaths of six people.
The chemical board said the incident happened on Line 4, where chicken is processed to “include seasoning, cooking, freezing and then repackaging.”
The board said its investigators have interviewed staff with firsthand knowledge and collected evidence while collaborating with local emergency management. The board said it is focusing on the plant’s cryogenic freezing system.
“Prior to the recent installation of this system, a different type of freezing equipment was used, which was ammonia-based,” according to the board. “This equipment is still collocated on Line 4 adjacent to the cryogenic system and has not yet been removed.”
The board told the media Saturday, Jan. 30, that tools were found near the line’s immersion freezer.
“We have since learned that unplanned maintenance was being conducted on Line 4,” the board’s Monday release said.
The board will be looking for more information on the insulation, age, operation, maintenance and condition of all liquid nitrogen system equipment, said, Katherine Lemos, chair and CEO of the board.
The chemical safety investigators will continue their investigations on the scene in coming days and release any urgent updates as they have them, Lemos said. But, she added, it could take years to complete a full investigation report.
In addition to the six deaths, 12 people were sent to the hospital.
Northeast Georgia Health System officials said Monday that there was only one patient remaining at the hospital, who is in fair condition.
Autopsy reports determining the cause of the death for the six victims are still underway by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles said when the investigation is finalized, a report will be sent to the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.
Gainesville Fire Department said its incident report is “incomplete at this time.”