January 10, 2014 / 10:01 PM / in 4 years

UPDATE 2-Cargill, USDA check for meat contamination after Iowa plant ammonia leak

(New throughout, adds comment from fire chief, Cargill)

Jan 10 (Reuters) - Cargill Inc. and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are trying to determine if some meat products were contaminated by an ammonia leak that closed the company’s Ottumwa, Iowa, pork packing plant on Friday, a company spokesman said.

Two workers were hospitalized and an undisclosed number of other employees were evacuated during the overnight shift after an ammonia leak was detected at 2 a.m. CST (0800 GMT).

Ottumwa Fire Chief Tony Miller said the spill was contained to the roof of the plant and his team left the scene about 12:20 pm CST (1820 GMT) on Friday.

An ammonia pipe was damaged, but no other equipment was damaged by the leak, Cargill spokesperson Michael Martin told Reuters in an e-mail. Ammonia is used in the refrigeration systems of meat processing plants.

USDA officials were unavailable for comment.

The pork processing plant closed early on Friday after the leak was detected and will remain shut until Saturday, Martin said.

The plant canceled its first shift and had initially planned to reopen for the second shift, but it was canceled later on Friday. Two full shifts are planned for Saturday, he said.

“Cleanup is not going as quickly as they hoped it would,” Martin said, adding that Cargill’s hazardous materials response team is handling the clean-up.

The Ottumwa plant processes 18,000 to 19,000 head of hogs daily and employs 2,400 workers. (Reporting by Meredith Davis; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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