Ammonia Leak at NC Plant Forces Evacuations

MARSHVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A spokesman for a turkey processing plant in Union County says the company is investigating an ammonia leak that forced the evacuation of more than 100 people in the North Carolina community.

Police say ammonia leaked from a refrigeration unit early Tuesday at the Pilgrim's Pride plant near Marshville, about 35 miles southeast of Charlotte.

Pilgrim's Pride spokesman Gary Rhodes said the valve on the pipe carrying the ammonia has been shut off. But he doesn't know when the plant with its 550 employees will resume operations.

"The plant is shut down for the day as the investigation continues and they try to clear the ammonia from the plant. All the ammonia going into the plant has been shut off," Rhodes said.

The plant was evacuated. Local police also evacuated a 1.5-mile area downwind as a precaution. No injuries have been reported.

Marshville Mayor Frank Deese says company officials told him the leak was due to either over-pressurization or an explosion in a freezer. But Rhodes said they were looking into the cause.

"The good news is that all of the employees and all the people around the plant are safe," he said.

The North Carolina Labor Department also is investigating, agency spokeswoman Dolores Quesenberry said. The company could face possible fines for the leak.

Pilgrim's Pride is one of the nation's largest poultry processors with plants in more than a dozen states.