Last Tuesday afternoon, June 13, an ammonia leak occurred at the Koch Foods plant building located in the 4400-block of W. Berteau at the Northwest Side of Chicago.
Employees were promptly evacuated to prevent further casualties or injuries. There were about three people hospitalised due to the resulting leak, but they were already in a stabilised condition.
At around 3 pm, the Chicago Fire Department called a hazardous material alert. By 3:45 pm, authorities said that the leak was already secured and posed no threat to the surrounding neighbourhood.
A similar incident occurred last December 2014 in one of Koch Foods’ poultry plants in Gainesville, Georgia, also sending three people to a local hospital. In June 2014, Koch Foods’ Gainesville plant was also reported to suffer from an ammonia leak where four people were sent to a hospital for treatment.
Employee evacuation. Photo c/o abc7chicago.com
Ammonia is a colourless gas which can highly irritate the lungs of the human body because of its sharp and suffocating odour. Though ammonia is not regarded as a highly flammable material, when it mixes with water, it can form an ammonium hydroxide solution that can cause irritation and burns.
When exposed to its gas or vapour form, a person may experience a burning sensation in his eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Depending on the severity of exposure, a person may lead to blindness, lung cell damage or even death.
Despite its potential harm, ammonia is an important product used in the agriculture industry for the making of fertilizers. It can also be used as a cleaning solution, refrigerant gas, water supply purifier, and is necessary in the manufacturing of pesticides, plastics, fabrics, explosives, dyes and other industrial chemicals.
Koch Foods is currently the fifth largest broiler company in the United States according to the WATT Global Media Top Companies Database. Every week, Koch Foods is able to produce 48 million pounds of ready-to-cook chicken with the help of its 8 slaughter plants, 4 processing plants and one cooking plants.