Tyson, inc is investigating an ammonia release that occurred Tuesday morning inside their Lexington, NE beef complex. A company spokesman says 20 of their team members had been transported to Lexington Regional Health Center(LRHC). LRHC staff treated a total of 20 patients within a three-hour window, most for respiratory issues, according to the Director of Health Information Management and Privacy Officer. LeAnn Muegerl said one patient was transferred to another facility in critical condition and two patients where admitted to Lexington Regional Health Center for further observation and were in stable condition as of late Tuesday afternoon. She said the rest of the patients were treated and released. Muegerl said LRHC staff also went to the Tyson plant to assist with patient care after patient care at the hospital had been established.
The ammonia leak was reported around 11:15am. Lexington Volunteer Fire Department(LVFD) Fire Chief Dahlas Holbein said that the plant had already been evacuated upon their arrival at the scene and that the victims in the leak had been brought outside. He thanked Midwest Medical Transport for assisting LVFD in transporting patients to LRHC. He said many of the patients had been experiencing breathing problems. At least three Midwest Medical Transport units were on standby at LRHC in case patients needed to be transferred to another facility.
Some Tyson team members were observed returning to the building around 12:30pm. By mid-afternoon Tuesday, Tyson spokesman Worth Sparkman said the ammonia release had been contained and some operations had resumed. He said they’re “grateful for the quick response of emergency services and will work with them to ensure our team members receive any needed care.” Worthman said ammonia is used in their refrigeration operations. In a later statement, Sparkman said “the health and safety of our team members is extremely important to us. We’ll continue to investigate this incident so we can prevent repeating it in the future.” Meanwhile, he said the plant has been deemed safe and they had plans to resume normal operations on Wednesday.
Fire Chief Holbein said Tyson team members “got the leak stopped pretty fast.” He says “apparently they were doing some maintenance on one of the valves and broke a gauge off.” Dawson County Sheriff’s Office, Dawson County Emergency Management and Lexington Police Department also responded to the scene.
LVFD were paged around 5:24pm Tuesday back to the Tyson complex for more persons who were apparently affected by the ammonia leak. It could not be confirmed whether any were transported for further care.
While LRHC had’nt experienced a disaster incident of that magnitude at the Health Center, Muegerl says it’s something they do train for on an annual basis. As soon as LRHC staff learned of the ammonia leak, Muegerl they activated their disaster call list which led to getting extra staff onboard. “We had plenty of ancillary staff, nursing staff, plenty of providers that were that were there and able to assist with the care of those patients” she said. “Everybody pulled together, everybody worked really well together. We were able to implement our training that we’ve had, that helped us (to) really care for those patients in a timely fashion.”
Listen to podcast of LRHC’s response to ammonia leak by clicking image below.