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Agency releases initial details of investigation into deadly Gainesville plant leak

Six people died in the incident following a Nitrogen leak, officials say.

GAINESVILLE, Ga. — The organization charged with investigating the deadly release of nitrogen at a Georgia food plant has released a handful of initial findings that suggest issues leading up to the event.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board released three bullet points tied to their investigation of the Foundation Food Group plant in Gainesville where six people were killed and more were injured.

According to the CSB investigation thus far, the plant had been experiencing "unresolved operational issues on the conveyor that appear to have resulted in the accidental release of liquid nitrogen in the flash freezing bath."

The agency also said it has information that line number 4 was shut down the morning of the incident.

"The shutdown was due to operational issues on the conveyor line," the CSB statement said.

It goes on to say that Foundation Food Group maintenance personnel reported that the computerized measuring system "indicated a low liquid level in the immersion bath used to flash freeze the chicken products."

It's just the latest update from the CSB pertaining to the deadly accident. On Feb. 1, the chairman of the CSB issued another statement pointing to their closer examination of the cryogenic freezing system and that both the interior and exterior elements of the system for Line 4 were made by the company known as Messer.

Foundation Food Group had replaced ammonia-based equipment on the line with what was described as a liquid nitrogen immersion-spiral freezer. In the first stage of the system, the chicken travels on a conveyer belt and is submerged in liquid nitrogen at a temperature of -320 degrees Fahrenheit.  The second stage then sends the chicken through the "spiral freezer" portion and the chicken is exposed to recovered gaseous nitrogen from the first stage.

Investigators said they also found tools in the vicinity of the immersion freezer on Line 4 and had since learned that there was unplanned maintenance being conducted on it.

The CSB previously announced that their full investigation, depending on the complexity, could take several years to complete. And while recommendations would be released after this point, the agency said it may release recommendations along the way if they feel they are urgent.

The latest revelations in the investigation come roughly a week after a deadly leak killed five men and one woman, later identified as Jose DeJesus Elias-Cabrera, Corey Alan Murphy, Nelly Perez-Rafael, Saulo Suarez-Bernal-Victor Vellez, and Edgar Vera-Garcia.

In one positive update from the CSB, the agency reported that two previously hospitalized patients had been released and one that was still in the hospital had improved from critical to fair condition.

But the incident, which received national attention, has also led to a push by activist groups and lawmakers demanding change at meat processing plants across the U.S.