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'Chaos,' grim details of nitrogen leak reported in 911 calls from Foundation Food Group
Investigators say "major portions" of liquid nitrogen system were newly installed
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Foundation Food Group, pictured Jan. 29, 2021 - photo by Scott Rogers

In his first 911 call Thursday, a man identifying himself as the plant director for Foundation Food Group says he can see people moving outside and has heard someone is potentially frozen by liquid nitrogen.

By his second call, he is trying to find out how to help the workers, telling the 911 operator someone is foaming at the mouth.

“What can we do with the people that aren’t being dealt with right now?” the man asks.

The 911 operator advises the man not to touch anyone out of concern for chemical exposure.

“I’m standing with a guy who’s been frozen by liquid nitrogen,” the 911 caller says. “He’s barely breathing.”

Call to 911 from Foundation Food Group

In the first recorded call to 911 from Foundation Food Group on Jan. 28, 2021, a man who identifies himself as director of the plant tells the dispatcher that someone has potentially been sprayed by liquid nitrogen. The Times obtained this call from Hall County Emergency Services under open records laws.

The second call lasts more than 10 minutes. With an alarm sounding in the background, the man pleads with the operator to send emergency workers to the back side of the plant where the injured people are located. The operator tells him that responders are on the scene and more are en route. Over the ensuing several minutes, the caller reports people without pulses, ultimately saying “We’ve got five dead.”

CONTENT WARNING: Second call to 911 from Foundation Food Group

The Times is publishing a portion of this 911 call in the interest of providing accurate first-hand sources to the deadly incident at Foundation Food Group. The content of this call is graphic and includes explicit language. The full call is more than 10 minutes, and it has been trimmed due to the especially distressing content of what is heard in the call.

While trying to help the man who is still alive, the operator asks the caller if he can hear her. He responds, “It’s chaos right here, ma’am.”

Six people total died in the Jan. 28 incident. 

Several agencies continue investigating the incident, which occurred just after 10 a.m. on Thursday. 

At a 3 p.m. news conference on Saturday, Katherine Lemos, chair and CEO of U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, said a maintenance manager shut off an external isolation valve supplying liquid nitrogen to the processing lines shortly after the leak began. She said that action likely prevented further damage. 

The board said Monday that unplanned maintenance was happening Thursday on the production line where the liquid nitrogen was released.Lemos did say "major portions of the liquid nitrogen system, both interior and exterior" were installed in the last four to six weeks. She said tools were also reported found around the new equipment, a discovery she says the board is looking into.

She said the incident occurred on the fourth of five production lines at the plant. Processing on line four included poultry seasoning, cooking and flash freezing, she said. Lemos said liquid nitrogen is used to flash freeze the chicken. 

Lemos said an "inadvertent release" of liquid nitrogen rapidly converted to a gas.

"The gas is heavier than air and forces oxygen out of the room," she said.

The board will be looking for more information on the insulation, age, operation, maintenance and condition of all liquid nitrogen system equipment, Lemos said.

The chemical safety investigators will continue their investigations on the scene in coming days and release any urgent updates as they have them, Lemos said. But, she added, it could take years to complete a full investigation report.

Lemos did, however, reiterate early in her remarks that there had been no explosion at Foundation Food Group, a rumor that quickly circulated on social media shortly after the leak was discovered.

The Hall County Sheriff’s Office, which is conducting death investigations, released the names of those killed on Friday, Jan. 30. Their bodies were transported to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for an autopsy. Hall County Deputy Coroner Kevin Wetzel said the autopsies were scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 31.

Northeast Georgia Health System officials said Monday that there was only one patient remaining at the hospital, who is in fair condition.

Fundraising and other efforts to help the families have been organized by friends, family and community leaders.

Digital Editor Thomas Hartwell and reporters Jeff Gill and Robbie Sequeira contributed to this report.