OHS Canada Magazine

Chemical release clears processing plant

ABRAMS VILLAGE, PEI


October 1, 2008
By Andrew D'Cruz
Categories
Health & Safety

ABRAMS VILLAGE, PEI

Almost 30 workers at a seafood processing plant in Abrams Village, Prince Edward Island were taken to hospital on September 2 after being exposed to elevated levels of an industrial cleaning agent.

The exposure occurred during morning production at the Acadian Fisherman’s Co-Operative Association facility, says Lynn Rayner, quality manager for the plant. At about 8:15 am, two workers were spraying down equipment with a liquid containing diluted Oxygerm, a peracetic acid-based sanitizer, when they detected a vinegar-like smell. One worker also reported a minor skin contact with the liquid, which can cause skin burns and ulcerations.

Shortly thereafter, several other workers reported breathing difficulties and at least one person fainted several times. The processing room was evacuated and rinsed with water.

Emergency and hazardous materials crews were called to the scene and, eventually, all of the plant’s 120 employees were evacuated as a precautionary measure.

In all, 27 workers were transported to a local hospital by ambulance or bus. There being no serious injuries, all of the affected workers were released later that same day.

The plant was shut down for the rest of the workday. “We didn’t want them to feel insecure coming into the building if they didn’t want to,” Rayner says of employees.

The sanitizing liquid is mixed by an automated Dosatron unit, and normally contains Oxygerm diluted in water at 250 parts per million (ppm), a level considered food-safe by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Rayner notes that samples of the liquid used that morning contained 850 to 880 ppm of the sanitizer, roughly three and half times the food-safe level.

Chuck Pilger, a senior occupational hygienist for ALARA Industrial Hygiene Services in Toronto, says peracetic acid-based sanitizers can cause respiratory irritation and are corrosive, but the peracetic acid can actually be metabolized by the body. “As soon as the person removes [himself] from exposure, he would recover fairly quickly from it and it shouldn’t have any long-term effects,” Pilger explains.

PEI’s Workers Compensation Board is currently conducting an investigation to determine how the concentration of Oxygerm ended up so high, says George Stewart, oh&s director for the board. Potential contributing factors include a fault in the Dosatron unit, a problem with the mixing valve and operator error.

To address worker concerns about the sanitizer, the co-op will switch entirely to a quaternary ammonium-based sanitizer that had already been in alternating use at the plant.