4 Companies Issued Almost $1M in Fines for Nitrogen Leak That Killed 6 at Poultry Plant

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] will issue almost $1 million in fines to four companies after a liquid nitrogen leak killed six workers at a Georgia poultry plant in January.

U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh announced Friday that Foundation Food Group, Packers Sanitation Service Ltd., Messer LLC and FS Group Inc., were all cited with violations and fines.

In January, a freezing line at the processing plant malfunctioned and sent a cloud of liquid nitrogen vapor into the workroom that was below the floor level of the rest of the plant. An investigation found that the workers tried to flee, but some exits were blocked. Six workers died from "asphyxia due to, or as a consequence of liquid nitrogen exposure."

"During the course of this inspection we have had difficulty in reaching workers, particularly, many of the workers are immigrants, undocumented immigrants," said OSHA Atlanta Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Poultry Plant Vioaltions
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] will issues almost $1 million in fines and several citations to four companies in the wake of a liquid nitrogen leak. The Prime Pak Foods poultry processing plant is seen on Jan. 28 in Gainesville, Georgia after a liquid nitrogen leak earlier in the day. Elijah Nouvelage/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has previously said a newly installed conveyor belt system that carried chicken products into a liquid nitrogen bath malfunctioned.

Workers reported that a computerized measuring system indicated a low liquid level in the immersion bath, according to the board. The processing line that malfunctioned had been shut down on the morning of the release, the board said.

Foundation Food Group had previously said it was "fully cooperating" with investigators, but OSHA officials said Friday they had issued numerous subpoenas for documents and testimony to compel cooperation.

They also for the first time acknowledged they had asked the Department of Homeland Security to stop immigration enforcement in Hall County, where the hub of Georgia's nation-leading poultry processing industry is heavily staffed by people who entered the country illegally.

The victims were 45-year-old Jose DeJesus Elias-Cabrera of Gainesville; 35-year-old Corey Alan Murphy of Clermont; 28-year-old Nelly Perez-Rafael of Gainesville; 41-year-old Saulo Suarez-Bernal of Dawsonville; 38-year-old Victor Vellez of Gainesville; and 28-year-old Edgar Vera-Garcia of Gainesville.

Families of a number of dead workers have filed lawsuits against the German company that made the liquid nitrogen system, Messer Group, and a Messer employee who visited the plant in the days before the leak to service the system. Those suits allege Messer and the worker are at fault for failing to properly inspect, test, repair or shut down the system before the liquid nitrogen release.

While the fines for the four companies range from $42,325 to $595,474, OSHA fines and citations are often lowered following informal and formal appeal processes.