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Ammonia sickens employees at Ballico plant
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An ammonia spill at a Ballico strawberry facility sickened more than 40 people and  sent two dozen to area hospitals.

There were no serious injuries resulting from the incident, which in part was due to the quick reactions of the business said Merced County Fire Battalion Chief Jeremy Rahn.

“The plant did a great job evacuating all 475 employees out of the building and mitigating the ammonia,” Rahn said. “Their actions minimized the impact of the incident.”

The ammonia spill at the facility in the 11000 block of Santa Fe Drive in Ballico was reported to CalFire Merced around 8 a.m. Thursday.

We were notified of a medical emergency with possible hazardous material,” Rahn said.

The facility is owned by Driscoll Strawberry Processing and is leased to Sierra Cascade Nursery.

About one to two gallons of ammonia spilled in a confined mechanical space, Rahn said.

No one had direct contact with the ammonia, but 44 people were sickened from the odor. Twenty employees were treated at the scene and refused further medical attention, while 24 employees were taken by ambulances to hospitals in Turlock, Merced and Modesto.

Emanuel Medical Center treated three patients from the incident, while Mercy Medical Center in Merced saw 10 patients. All others went to hospitals in Modesto.

In its mildest form, ammonia can cause severe irritation to the nose and throat when inhaled and burn the skin with direct contact, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

A total of eight ambulances, 15 fire fighters and a hazardous materials team responded to the incident.

The approximately 90,000 square foot facility remained closed on Thursday so maintenance had time to make the needed repairs and clean the plant.