The anhydrous ammonia leak Wednesday at the JBS pork plant in the Butchertown neighborhood east of Louisville’s downtown was called “an extremely scary industrial accident” by a local resident leader who plans to meet with Mayor Greg Fischer on Saturday.
About 700 JBS employees were forced to flee from the pork slaughterhouse when alarms went off at 12:24 and 12:31 p.m. after the leak was detected. Anhydrous ammonias is a colorless, highly irritating gas with a sharp, suffocating odor.
The JBS pork plant stores 25,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia that is used on pork during refrigeration. It began to leak at about 11:20 a.m. One JBS employee was hospitalized for nausea. He was not in the immediate vicinity of the leak, Louisville Fire and Rescue officials said.
Leaks of the gas can, if not contained, cause death from swollen throats and chemical burns. Two area elementary schools were put on lockdown and surrounding residents were told to stay inside.
At the time the emergency sirens went off, Louisville was experiencing strong winds. Anhydrous ammonia dispersed by the wind could cause eyes, nose and throat burning.
After people living or working within a one mile radius of the pork facility were told to stay inside with windows closed and air conditioning off, several called emergency officials to say they could smell the gas.
About 80 pounds of the ammonia gas escaped the plant before JBS emergency workers brought it under control. The all-clear signal went out at 2:13 p.m., and all employees were back at work by 3 p.m.
Still, Butchertown Neighborhood Association President Andy Cornelius sees an opportunity on Saturday morning to meet with Fischer, Louisville’s new mayor, as “an opportunity to voice concerns.”
At least one resident, Jim Segrest, a former president of the Butchertown Neighborhood Association, reported smelling the gas at 11:30 a.m., before the warning siren went off. He called the Metro Air Pollution Control District.
The neighborhood has been concerned about the hog slaughterhouse for some time, including disputes over odors and chemicals used in the plant. JBS can kill and process 10,000 hogs a day at the Butchertown. It blamed the leak on a faulty valve.
About 400 hogs were lost due to the shutdown and had to be rendered for disposal.
Fischer, elected as Louisville’s 50th mayor last November, campaigned on retaining and increasing in-city jobs like those provided by JBS. He was previously scheduled to be in Butchertown Saturday for a neighborhood cleanup project.
It was the first ammonia leak at the plant in five years.
Following an ammonia leak, health officials advise the public to throw away food that was not in packages or containers. The same advice goes for pet food. In addition, a white powder residue might be left behind that can be safely wiped away with a wet cloth.
Brazilian-based JBS employs 120,000 people around the world in 120 locations. Its U.S. operations are headquartered in Greeley, CO.