Report: Language barrier caused chlorine leak at Tyson plant


LITTLE ROCK — A chlorine gas leak that sickened 200 workers at a Tyson Foods poultry processing plant last year was caused by a Hispanic worker who could not read an English-language label and accidentally poured bleach into a barrel that already contained another chemical, according to a federal report released Thursday.

Tyson officials disputed the report, saying the report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified the wrong employee.

“The worker responsible is not Hispanic and his primary language is English,” Tyson said in a statement released Thursday. “In addition, this employee has previously received hazardous chemical training.”

The statement said that since June 27, 2011, leak at a Tyson plant in Springdale plant, the company has put additional controls in place to limit access to chemicals in the plant.

Tyson’s also continues “to emphasize training for those authorized to handle such chemicals,” the statement said.

The CDC, in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, said a Spanish-speaking worker poured sodium hypochlorite, which is a bleach, into a 55-gallon drum that had been left in the wrong place. The container contained a small amount of a solution of an acidic antimicrobial agent, which, when mixed with the bleach, created the chlorine gas, the report said.

“The worker who inadvertently mixed the two solutions indicated that the drum was labeled in English but he could only read Spanish,” the CDC report said. “This incident underscores the danger posed by chlorine gas and the importance of employers providing adequate training and communication of health and safety precautions to employees.”

The reported said Spanish is the primary language of 68 percent of the workers at the poultry plant.

CDC officials in Atlanta did not immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday.