Hospitalized Willy Wonka candy plant workers return to work
Nestlé’s Willy Wonka candy factory is based out of Itasca, Illinois, and is the main manufacturing facility for the SweeTarts brand, and other varieties of pressed sugar candies.
Around 9:30 p.m. on Friday, a pipe carrying a nonhazardous material used to control humidity in the production environment burst. Seventeen people were evacuated with respiratory issues, among which 11 of them were transported to the hospital for treatment.
Chemical is non hazardous
“The chemical is lithium chloride salt solution; it is a desiccant, and it removes humidity from the environment,” said Nestlé’s director of corporate & brand affairs, Roz O’Hearn. “It is a non-hazardous, odorless solution and its only role is to control the production environment humidity, which is an important factor in pressed sugar candy production.”
The desiccant had no contact with the actual candy during production, she added.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)’s spokesperson, Scott Allen, said that lithium chloride is “very dangerous” and can cause skin, eye and respiratory irritation and other health problems.
O’Hearn argued that lithium chloride salts may present hazards, depending on amount and type of exposure.
“Dry salts generally require more precautions. However, in our Itasca facility, we use lithium chloride salt in a solution, which minimizes hazard associated with this particular mixture.”
Incident under investigation
OSHA is currently investigating the incident. Nestlé believes that a valve was damaged, which resulted in a leak.
Nestlé suspended the factory’s first shift operations as a result of the incident, but resumed normal operations with the second shift the day after.
“All employees are fine,” said O’Hearn.