BLADEN COUNTY, NC (WWAY) -- A Bladen County blueberry packing plant is temporarily shut down after a gas leak sent about 50 workers to the hospital. It happened last night at Carolina Blueberry Association on US 701.
Just before 8 p.m. Tuesday some employees inside the processing plant were complaining of headache and nausea. They evacuated the building, and when emergency workers arrived they ventilated the building and then went in to figure out the problem.
Investigators say the problem was a faulty forklift leaking high doses of carbon monoxide. The dangerous gas got into the ventilation system and circulated throughout the building.
"The one we think is the problem, just a few seconds after it was cranked, we noticed the carbon monoxide levels went up and the explosive levels went up," said Chief Deputy Phillip Little of the Bladen County Sheriff's Office.
It took emergency workers more than six hours to restore the air quality. Nearly all the employees were taken to area hospitals, but Carolina Blueberry Association General Manager Rod Bangert said they are all out of the hospital and doing fine. The blueberries are not so lucky.
"For insurance sake, those berries that were in the facility at the time will be discarded and will not be used," Bangert said
Bangert said a third party inspector will check out the building to be sure it's safe.
The blueberries are shipped all over the US, Europe and Canada. They are in local grocery stores with the Bonnie Blue label. Bangert assures they are safe to eat.
"The customer can feel 100 percent safe in the purchase of our berries, the consumption of our berries," he said. "They're all USDA federally inspected before they leave the plant here."
The plant is currently closed, but it will be back open for business Thursday Carolina Blueberry Association has been in business for 27 years. It's been in Bladen County for the past five years. The general manager says this is the first time an incident like this has happened.