An ammonia leak at the West Liberty foods plant at 207 W. Second Street in West Liberty forced 400 employees to evacuate Friday at 11:15 a.m.
West Liberty Fire Department Assistant Chief Tom Christensen said when emergency responders arrived “there were about four victims on the ground.”
Five ambulances – called in from West Liberty, Atalissa, Nichols, Johnson and Muscatine counties – worked to transport 16 employees exposed to ammonia fumes to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City.
Christensen said those employees “had irritants of the throat.”
Meanwhile, Muscatine County Hazmat teams suited up to go inside the plant to ensure the ammonia lead was contained while hundreds of employees huddled just south of the plant at the county activity center.
West Liberty Police Department approached residents living nearby to ensure their health was not in jeopardy.
“No immediate danger to the city,” explained Christensen. “The wind moved in the right direction so it got dissipated and taken care of right away.”
Tom Alberti, the plant manager, said the company believes the leak started from a valve on the roof.
The plant’s air circulation system then carried the toxic fumes inside to the slice department where deli meats are stored then processed.
“That was the only part of the building that really had exposure,” explained Alberti.
Alberti said any foods exposed will be condemned and the plant will re-open for normal operation tomorrow.
West Liberty Foods said most of employees transported to UIHC for treatment had been released by Friday afternoon.
The company is working with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to determine what caused the leak.
By Jami Brinton