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Carbon monoxide exposure sickens 16, kills 1 at Macon County farm

A small farm in Franklin Township and first responders from around the area experienced a tragic accident on Friday. An unexplained carbon monoxide gas leak occurred in the farm’s refrigerated storage and packing plant, and ultimately 16 workers were sickened by exposure to the hazardous chemical and another was killed.

A 911 call at around 7 p.m. on Aug. 2 sent emergency responders from Macon County to the farm’s facility. Inside, two men had been overcome by the gas, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says can cause symptoms from headaches and nausea to chest pain, unconsciousness and death. The two workers were rescued from the building, with one being airlifted to a South Carolina hospital and one being taken to the local hospital in Franklin. The second worker had suffered a heart attack and was pronounced dead that night.

It is not clear from press reports what caused the carbon monoxide gas leak, but it is not unusual for the gas to be vented from the cooling units on gas-powered refrigerators. Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of running any internal combustion engine. It is also unclear whether emergency responders were able to stop the leak.

However, it appears that those emergency workers may not have been properly protected from the airborne poison, as eleven of them were also sickened by exposure to the hazardous chemical. Four bystanders who had stopped to help were also overcome by the gas, according to a spokesperson for Clarks Creek Fire and Rescue.

The number of potential and real victims apparently prompted a huge response from area emergency services. First responders from the Macon County Sheriff’s Office, Macon County EMS, Franklin Fire & Rescue, Clarks Chapel Fire Department, Clarks Creek Fire and Rescue, Cowee Volunteer Fire & Rescue, and departments from West Macon, Cullasaja and Otto all arrived to assist. The local Angel Medical Center was forced to triage the victims.

The condition of those sickened is not yet known. The North Carolina Occupational Safety & Health Division has an investigation underway.

Sources: 

  • News & Record, "1 dead from exposure to carbon monoxide at NC farm," Associated Press, Aug. 3, 2013
  • Asheville Citizen-Times, "One person dies in farm accident," Aug. 2, 2013