More than 40 employees at a cannery in Woodland, California, were taken to Sacramento area hospitals, and more than 800 people were evacuated shortly after noon August 21 when chlorine dioxide leaked into a work area, authorities said. Two employees of Pacific Coast Producers, an agricultural cooperative, were seriously affected from exposure to the chemical, the battalion chief for the Woodland Fire Department said.
A dozen ambulances transported 22 workers to area hospitals, and another 21 were taken to hospitals by bus, the battalion chief said. A company spokeswoman said the two most seriously affected workers suffered “inhalation distress” from exposure to the gas. The chemical leaked into the work area in the form of “off-gassing,” apparently when an injection system carrying the gas became overloaded. The plant was evacuated immediately, she said, and workers were organized in staging areas to ensure all were accounted for, and to quickly determine who was in need of medical attention. A number of the employees were sent to hospitals as a precaution. During the peak tomato harvest months, the cannery operates 70 straight days around the clock with three shifts of 800 to 1,000 workers each.
About 500,000 tons of tomatoes are processed at the 40-acre Woodland site during this period. The episode had no effect on the food being processed, the company spokeswoman said.