Ammonia spill forces evacuation of Smithfield Food plant in Tar Heel

sgilman@newsobserver.comJune 17, 2014 

— An ammonia spill forced the evacuation of the massive Smithfield Foods processing plant in Tar Heel, and sent six people to the hospital for observation, according to a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Labor.

N.C. 87 was temporarily shut down as more than 2,000 workers were evacuated from the plant and emergency responders transported them across the highway to Tar Heel Middle School, according to the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office.

The highway re-opened around 3 p.m. on Tuesday.

The Fayetteville Observer reported that a line carrying ammonia was severed when a large water heater collapsed at the plant.

Smithfield foods is the country’s largest pork processor, and the slaughterhouse and processing plant on N.C. 87 in Tar Heel is the largest in the world. In 2012, an ammonia leak at the Tar Heel plant sent eight people to the hospital, according to the Associated Press.

The Department of Labor will conduct an investigation, said spokeswoman Dolores Quesenberry.

“Something like this, it could be two to three months for them to determine what exactly happened,” Quesenberry said. “It could be sooner.”

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