Olymel hog plant back operating after ammonia leak (Canada)

Affected pork products to be hauled out, destroyed

An Olymel hog slaughter and processing plant in Quebec's Beauce region is back up and running, after about a week offline due to an ammonia leak in a refrigerated area.

The Quebec pork and poultry company's plant at Vallee-Jonction, which can slaughter up to 37,500 hogs per week, mostly for export, suspended operations Aug. 12 when the plant's systems detected the leak.

The systems allowed Olymel to evacuate 350 evening-shift employees, the company said in an Aug. 13 release. Of those employees, nine were taken to nearby hospitals as a precaution, Olymel added.

Once emergency officials on Aug. 15 authorized a gradual resumption of work at the plant, Olymel staff were "hard at work emptying the plant of products so they could be destroyed."

Other groups "were busy cleaning the facilities and carrying out sanitation procedures required so operations could be resumed this morning," the company said in a separate release Monday.

The first day of work was to be devoted to slaughter, the company said Monday, as hog supplies to Vallee-Jonction resumed after being diverted mainly to other Olymel plants such as Princeville and St-Esprit.

Two shifts are to be on site Tuesday involving over 200 of the facility's 1,000 employees, including those assigned to cutting and other related operations, Olymel said.

Much of the production from Vallee-Jonction, about 60 km south of Quebec City, is destined for markets including Russia, Japan and the U.S.

The origin of the leak, which involved ammonia used in the plant's rapid-refrigeration process, "has been identified," the company said, adding it "will continue investigations to understand the causes and take all necessary measures to ensure that this kind of event does not happen in the future."

Olymel CEO Rejean Nadeau in Monday's release thanked plant staff and management and also added "its gratitude to the people living near the facility, who showed great patience in spite of the security measures imposed around the perimeter of the plant during the incident."