Dozens of employees at a Woodland tomato-processing plant were taken to area hospitals Sunday after chlorine gas leaked into the air, fire officials said.
In all, 43 workers at Pacific Coast Producers reported suffering from symptoms, including itchy throats, watery eyes and breathing difficulties, said Greg Robinson, Woodland Fire Department battalion chief.
Mona Shulman, a spokeswoman for Pacific Coast Producers, said the source of the leak was a tank of chlorine dioxide used during the tomato-sanitizing process at the 1376 Lemen Ave. plant.
“The purpose of it is to keep bag bugs out of the system as the tomatoes are being canned,” Shulman said Monday. “It put too much chlorine dioxide into the water, and once that happens, it gasses off.”
Shulman said the tank is located outside of the plant, but the gas plume drifted inside and sickened the employees.
Fire and ambulance crews were summoned at 12:14 p.m. to what was described as a hazardous materials/medical aid incident. They arrived to find five injured workers, and additional crews were called to the scene after more employees reported having symptoms from the leak, Robinson said.
Thirteen ambulances and four Fire Department units eventually responded. Robinson said two employees had “immediate” injuries, requiring triage on scene, while the remainder had delayed or minor symptoms from the leak.
Of the 43 affected employees, 24 were taken to Woodland Memorial Hospital for treatment — four by ambulance and 20 by bus, Robinson said. The remaining 19 were taken to various hospitals in Davis and Sacramento.
All but one person had been treated and released as of Monday afternoon, according to Shulman.
The Sunday afternoon shift was delayed by four hours until the plant was rendered safe, Shulman said. Operations resumed Monday minus the chlorine dioxide system, which Shulman said would remain shut down “until we can ensure that it’s operating safely.”
Yolo County environmental health workers are investigating the incident.
— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or (530) 747-8048. Follow her on Twitter @laurenkeene