Compressor Oil Linked to Ammunition Plant Illnesses in Okla.

November 26, 2007

A mystery illness that sickened 11 workers last month at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in Oklahoma has been linked to oil in a compressor that pumped chilled air into the workers’ masks.

The workers wear the hooded masks as part of their safety equipment.

On Oct. 18, 11 of 17 workers in a production building at the plant reported they were experiencing dizziness, headaches and vomiting. They were taken to a local hospital but released later that day.

When they returned to work four days later, nine workers said their symptoms had returned. At least two of the workers had not returned to full-time work at the plant as of mid-November.

Plant spokesman Mark Hughes said a link had been established between the compressor oil and an odor the workers said they noticed before they became sick. Plant personnel who examined the workers’ gear also reported the odor.

The 11 employees worked in a building where TNT is melted from World War II-era 750-pound bombs, so the TNT can be reused. Hughes said workers in the building now are using manual respirators.

He said the equipment used by the workers on the first day they became sick will be replaced and that the plant is considering using a compressor in which the oil would not come into contact with air that passes through the machine.

Information from: McAlester News-Capital,

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