Chemical leak as Riverview workplace evacuated

Thousands of JBS Dinmore workers have been evacuated after a major ammonia leak in the cold room at the slaughterhouse and processing plant.

The incident occurred about 11.30am at the Lock Way Riverview business on Tuesday, November 29.

The emergency situation resulted in one worker being rushed to hospital with chemical burns, although two others were allegedly burnt, and another suffered heat stroke while being evacuated on a hot day.

It has been reported that a large quantity of the harmful nitrogen and hydrogen compound, which is used to refrigerate rooms for slaughtered cows, leaked and caused noxious gas to spread.

The pungent gas could be smelt hundreds of meters from the facility, and left between 1000-2500 evacuated workers at the mercy of the wind, with safety crews routinely forced to move workers to avoid the gas.

Exposure to high concentration of the toxic gas causes one’s eyes, nose, and throat to burn which can lead to blindness, lung damage and death.

A lack of information caused confusion and worry to spread on site, as loved ones waited to pick up family members who should have finished their shift hours prior — but they couldn’t be contacted.

Afternoon and night workers started filtering onto the site for their shift and claim they were not notified by the company, although they could smell the issue.

One worker who had been waiting three hours in 30C heat said ammonia leaks were commonplace but he hadn’t seen one this bad during his 15-years on the site.

A number of cattle trucks with hundreds of lethargic beats on board were also at a standstill in the heat, unable to unload the animals destined for the slaughter floor.

A QFES spokesman said it took five hours to contain the leak before the scene was handed back to JSB at 4.30pm.

As QFES worked to isolate the leak, word came through to the night shift workers before 3pm that they needed to stick around as they may be required to work to clear out the spoiled carcass.

Disbelief, shock, and worry rippled through the workers who said the gas was difficult to get rid of completely as it absorbed into surfaces.

“This is bullshit, I’m not going in there,” one exclaimed.

“You’re joking?” said another.

“I don’t want to get sick.”

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, based in the US, “in the air, ammonia will last about one week”.

“Ammonia has been found in air, soil, and water samples at hazardous waste sites” a public health document reported.

A JBS spokeswoman said “our people are our most important asset and their continued safety is a priority for JBS Australia”.

“Emergency services were in attendance and assisted with the management of the incident and the safe return of staff to work, and we thank them for their swift response.”

A workplace Health and Safety spokeswoman said the department was aware of the leak and was looking into the incident.

Earlier, a Queensland Fire and Emergency Service spokesman said the building was evacuated as hazmat crews and a senior scientific officer worked to contain the leak.

Source: The Courier Mail

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