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20 workers sent to hospital after ammonia leak at Burlington, Ontario., pork plant

Twenty workers at a Burlington, Ont., slaughterhouse have been taken to hospital as a precautionary measure after an ammonia leak, the city’s fire chief says.

Karen Roche told CBC Hamilton that ammonia is used at the plant, run by Fearmans Pork Inc., as a refrigerant and it leaked Thursday sometime after 11 a.m. ET.

Roche said enough ammonia was released to set off a sensor, which prompted the fire department to respond.

Const. Steve Elms of Halton regional police said officers, paramedics and Ontario’s Ministry of Labour all responded.

Roche said the building was evacuated and other workers were being relocated to Appleby Arena and Mainway Arena.

She said the level of ammonia is dropping and the leak has been addressed, but the fire service will follow up. Roche added that workers may be able to return to the facility in a few hours.

CBC Hamilton has contacted the Regional Municipality of Halton, the City of Burlington, the company and the union representing its workers for more details.

Later Thursday, the Ministry of Labour told CBC Hamilton it was notified of a leak at Sofina Foods in Burlington. The company acquired Fearmans in 2012.

The ministry said an inspector, hygienist and engineer had been assigned to the case and an investigation was underway. The last labour inspection at the facility was in December 2022, it added, though it did not provide further comment.

Ammonia inhalation can be lethal

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) states ammonia is a colourless gas that can be used as well as a refrigerant, among other uses.

It also describes ammonia as “very toxic,” saying if inhaled, it “can cause death.”

CCOHS says it can cause a “life-threatening” accumulation of fluid to fill someone’s lungs and can also cause severe irritation to someone’s nose and throat.

“Symptoms may develop hours after exposure and are made worse by physical effort. Long-term damage may result from a severe short-term exposure,” reads the CCHOS chemical profile of ammonia.

It is also corrosive and can irritate or burn people’s skin and eyes, and can lead to permanent scarring and blindness, according to the profile.

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