A gas leak sent 43 workers from a California tomato processing plant to local hospitals with breathing problems. The gas is used in a sanitation process that makes tomatoes safe for consumption. The chlorine dioxide leak at Pacific Coast Producers in Woodland, CA, led to the evacuation of 300 people from the plant.
Three of the 43 workers taken to hospitals were admitted overnight. Their injuries aren’t life threatening.
Chlorine dioxide is a fungicide and algaecide that’s used to clean and prepare tomatoes.
Workers who were exposed complained of difficulty breathing, a scratchy throat and watery eyes.
It was the second time the plant suffered a chlorine dioxide gas leak in four years. In September 2007, 16 workers at the cannery were sent to local hospitals after being exposed to the gas.
There was no risk to people outside of the building because the gas was shut off quickly.
Cal/OSHA has ordered Pacific Coast not to use the equipment involved until it can show it can be operated safely. It’s not common to issue such an order unless the equipment poses an imminent danger, according to Cal/OSHA.
The irony here, of course, is that the process which is meant to make tomato products safe to eat sickened workers in the plant.