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29 Sent to Hospital from 2 Chemical Leaks at Cheese Plant

More than 50 others were evaluated for possible illness.

Kristen Kazarian

December 22, 2023

1 Min Read
Chemical leak at cheese manufacturing plant
Effects of this chemical can be toxic, even fatal.Image courtesy of zaorazhuang / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Two chemical leaks at a Greenville, TN, cheese manufacturing facility sent 29 people to area hospitals Wednesday morning.

The Greeneville Fire Department was first called to La Quesera Mexicana at 7:15 a.m. when an anhydrous ammonia leak occurred during maintenance on a valve. Six people were hospitalized at the time.

“The leak was contained and fixed at that moment. And the scene was certified as safe,” Smith said.

However, a second call about a leak came in at 10:01 a.m. with an additional 23 people hospitalized and 53 other employees evaluated for possible illness, Smith said.

Effects of inhalation of anhydrous ammonia range from lung irritation to severe respiratory injuries, with possible death at higher concentrations. The chemical is also corrosive and can burn the skin and eyes.

Anhydrous ammonia is commonly used in agricultural practices as a fertilizer for row crop farming. In cheese processing, the chemical can be used in the fermentation process to help neutralize the acid. It is stored as a liquid.

Officials do not yet know if the two leaks came from the same source, Smith said, but the second leak was repaired and there was no risk to the surrounding community.

Ballad Health set up incident command centers at Greeneville Community Hospital and Johnson City Medical Center to handle the influx of patients, according to a news release from the health system. As of noon Wednesday, they still were treating 25 patients from the incident.

About the Author(s)

Kristen Kazarian

Managing Editor

Kristen Kazarian has been a writer and editor for more than three decades. She has worked at several consumer magazines and B2B publications in the fields of food and beverage, packaging, processing, women's interest, local news, health and nutrition, fashion and beauty, automotive, and computers.

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