The leak, which lasted less than 30 seconds, was caused by a faulty seal in a valve, according to Tip Top COO Brad Respess. About 240 employees were evacuated, he said.
Ammonia is used at the plant to both chill processed chickens and to keep the plant cool, Respess said.
“Ammonia is like freon. It’s very efficient for food operations. We use it for chilling product and cooling,” Respess said.
Lisa Brown, director of marketing for Redmond Regional Medical Center, said the hospital treated 14 patients, and nine patients were treated at Polk Medical Center. Another five were taken to Floyd Medical Center, said hospital spokesman Bill Fortenberry.
“People were given fluids and some breathing treatments and then being released,” Respess said.
It could not be determined Wednesday how many of the patients had been released.
City officials were informed of the leak around 7:30 a.m. The Rockmart Fire Department cleared the plant and turned it back over to plant officials with the ammonia contained around 9:45 a.m.
“There was no danger to the community or to the surrounding areas,” said Rockmart Fire Chief Todd Queen. “The release of the ammonia was very small. It dissipated very quickly. We never anticipated any evacuation.”
Employees affected by the ammonia suffered symptoms including difficulty breathing, itchy eyes and a burning sensation, Queen said.
Respess said it was the Rockmart Fire Department’s decision to take employees to hospitals without decontaminating them first at the plant.
“We’ve got a pretty simple way of doing that here, but they decided to send them to hospitals,” he said.
He said his biggest concern was to make sure the employees got the medical help they needed.
“Our employees are our family here at Tip Top. We take them very seriously,” he said.
OSHA and the federal Environmental Protection Agency were notified of the incident, Respess said.