Local News

Chicken plant fined for fatal ammonia release

Posted February 5, 2010 11:49 a.m. EST
Updated February 5, 2010 12:11 p.m. EST

Mountaire Farms Inc. processing plant

— State air-quality regulators on Friday fined a Robeson County chicken processing plant $27,410 for improper handling of hazardous materials that led to a fatal ammonia release last year.

The Division of Air Quality assessed Mountaire Farms Inc. of Lumber Bridge with the penalty for violations that contributed to the release of anhydrous ammonia at the plant on June 20.

A high-pressure ammonia line ruptured in the plant, forcing up to 40 workers to evacuate the building, authorities said. Mechanic Clifton Swain, 49, of Fayetteville, died in the incident, and four other workers were injured.

An investigation found that Mountaire didn't have a complete risk management program for handling ammonia, a toxic gas, even though regulators cited the company for such shortcomings the previous year, officials said.

In March 2008, the Division of Air Quality fined the company $4,506 for earlier violations of risk management rules.

The federal Clean Air Act requires companies to develop a risk management program to ensure they properly store hazardous materials, train their employees on safe handling methods, and prepare plans for responding to emergency releases.

The Division of Air Quality handed Mountaire the maximum penalty allowed for a single violation, $25,000, because of the severity of the incident and previous problems at the plant. Regulators also asked the company to pay $2,410 to cover the state’s investigative costs.

In December, the state Department of Labor fined Mountaire $73,325 for 22 workplace safety violations that contributed to the fatal ammonia leak.

Between 2005 and last June, state and federal regulators cited the plant for 19 workplace safety violations, including 15 in an inspection report dated April 21, 2009. Nine of those violations were labeled serious, and fines totaled $19,600.

The plant employs about 2,500 people.