June 9, 2009 The Pump Handle 5Comment

Updated below (6/13/09)

The Associated Press and other news sources are reporting on an explosion today at a meat processing facility in Garner, NC.  Four workers are missing, at least 41 are injured, including several with very severe burns.  One worker reports:

“I was picking up a piece of meat off the line and I felt it, the percussion [force of explosion] in my chest.  One of the guys I was working with got blown back, he flew backwards.”

A local news source WRAL.com reports the explosion:

“…caved in parts of the roof, sparked fires and caused an ammonia leak.  …Many [workers] suffered from exposure to toxic fumes from ammonia leaks, and some also suffered chemical burns.”

This report quotes another worker:

“‘ “What I saw (and) heard was this boom, and the ceiling start coming down, and we all start running.  Everyone was trying to get to the exit door. … I was just trying to get out…'”

And adds a bit of information about what happened to the ammonia after the initial explosion, offering information from a spokesperson from the NC Dept of Environment and Natural Resources:

“ConAgra implemented its emergency plan immediately after the explosion, dumping the ammonia from lines in the plant into a settling pond.   The state Division of Air Quality and the EPA sent managers to the plant to ensure emergency response plans and protocols for storing hazardous materials were being followed.”

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is on the scene, with Don Holmstrom serving as the lead investigator.  Workers at the plant are members of Local 204 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

Senator Kay Hagen (D-NC) issued a statement concerning the explosion:

“Like many North Carolinians, I was extremely concerned to hear the news of today’s building collapse in Garner.  My thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of the injured and missing workers from this tragic accident.  First responders from across the Triangle are working together at the scene to administer aid, and I hope their efforts to find those still unaccounted for are successful.”

North Carolina is one of the States that runs its own occupational health and safety enforcement program.  It will be their responsibility to conduct the catastrophe investigation.

Updated (6/10/09):  a Pump Handle reader shared this from “bizjournals.com” with a note: “Slim Jims OK.  Workers… not so much.”   Indeed.

“The Garner plant is the only facility in the United States that makes Slim Jims. The company has an inventory of Slim Jims off site, so ConAgra does not expect there to be a supply disruption. Jackson did not know how large a supply of Slim Jims were available.”

Updated 6/13/09:   The names of the workers killed by the explosion are:  Barbara McLean Spears, 43, Rachel Mae Poston Pulley, 67, and Lewis Junior Watson, 33.  

Local 204 of the UFCW has established a disaster relief fund to aid victims.  Donations can be made out to:

UFCW Local 204 ConAgra Disaster Relief Fund
PO Box 466
Clemmons, NC 27012

5 thoughts on “Explosion at NC ConAgra meat plant

  1. Shulquist,
    When I look at the overhead photos of the plant, the explosion looks like it was quite powerful. I was curious about the news reports of ammonia leaks, but after reading information indicating that ammonia “is generally not considered a serious fire or explosion hazard because ammonia-air mixtures are difficult to ignite and a relatively high concentration of the gas is required” (Canadian Centre for OHS) it suggests to me another source. I have immense confidence in the CSB and believe that we will be hearing something from their investigators in the next few days about their initial observations from the site.

    I pray for the workers with the burn injuries.

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