On February 7, US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) announced its third update
on the tragic liquid nitrogen release in a Georgia poultry plant that killed six workers and hospitalized twelve others. The latest update from CSB includes additional details about the plant’s processes and the circumstances surrounding the liquid nitrogen release.
The plant at which the incident occurred cooks, processes, and freezes poultry products to be packaged and shipped. As part of their operations, the plant uses liquid nitrogen to flash-freeze product. CSB deployed investigators to the scene on January 28.
At room temperature, liquid nitrogen converts to a colorless, odorless gas that displaces oxygen as it expands. When it becomes a gas, liquid nitrogen can expand nearly 700 times in volume. This means that even a very small amount of the substance can quickly expand and displace a great deal of oxygen.
When oxygen in an enclosed area is displaced, asphyxiation can occur and lead to unconsciousness or death. In its liquid form, LN can freeze skin tissue and cause cold burns, frostbite, and permanent tissue damage.
CSB released a statement
to update the public on February 1. The independent agency is focusing its investigation on the cryogenic freezing system and has learned that unscheduled maintenance was being conducted on the production line where the incident occurred.
The team is working with OSHA and local first responders to determine exactly where the release occurred and will provide updates as more information becomes available. CSB investigations entail interviews with knowledgeable employees, examination of evidence, and cooperation with local emergency responders.
Incident investigations can take years to complete.
What is the CSB?
The CSB's role is to investigate serious chemical accidents, identify their root causes, and recommend measures to prevent similar incidents in the future. While the Board can make recommendations to governing agencies like OSHA and US EPA, it does not have rulemaking, inspection, or enforcement powers.
Created in 1990 as part of a bill to amend the Clean Air Act, the CSB reports directly to Congress and the President of the US.