An investigation into a chemical rupture that blew a pressure release disk through the roof at MFG Chemical and through a wall at a neighboring carpet mill on Monday morning is ongoing by the Office of Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
OSHA is checking to see if the Dalton company violated OSHA standards, a spokesman said.
Forty-three people were taken to Hamilton Medical Center to be decontaminated after the incident. All 43 people who came to the hospital were decontaminated and released on Monday, with no one admitted overnight, Hamilton spokesman Daryl Cole said.
Many of those affected were from a nearby Beaulieu of America plant where the disk came through a wall, said Dalton police and fire department spokesman Bruce Frazier.
“There was some damage to the roof and to the side of the building (but) it’s all repairable and a reasonable repair,” said Ralph Boe, Beaulieu president and CEO. “I think it’s an unfortunate incident, but we were fortunate of the outcome and that there were no lasting effects on any of those who were affected. The fire department did a great job in terms of setting up a stand-up shower outside the building with a tent and showered everybody who could have had a potential exposure to anything ... (and) the hospital did a good job of checking them all out, making sure they hadn’t been subject to any exposure that could be problematic — because at the time we didn’t know what the chemical in the air was.”
Boe said their employees were able to resume work after a few hours on Monday after the Dalton Fire Department “cleared” the building, and that MFG sent a company to clean up the chemical spill. He did not know a cost estimate for repairs on Wednesday.
Fire Chief Bruce Satterfield reported a yellow liquid — a water treatment chemical called Coagulant 129 — flowed southwest out of the plant into the street about 1,000 to 1,300 feet.
Chattanooga-based Marion Environmental, which is on retainer for MFG, responded to do cleanup.
“Cleanup at the site began on Monday and was completed on Wednesday,” said Ellen Gallant, president of Marion Environmental. “The EPA (Environmental Protection Administration) was very pleased.”
A phone call to the state Environmental Protection Division was not immediately returned on Wednesday.
A three-sentence statement remained on the MFG company website (www.mfgchemical.com/contact/press-releases/) on Wednesday.
“(The company) had an incident at its Callahan Road Plant at about 8:15 a.m.,” according to the statement. “There were no injuries and no damage to the environment. The material involved is a polymer used in water treatment that is nontoxic to the environment and readily biodegradable.”
Company President Chuck Gavin did not immediately return a phone message on Wednesday afternoon. He did not respond to a message left on Monday.
Michael Wald, a regional director with the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Public Affairs in Atlanta, was asked if OSHA was still at the site on Wednesday.
“OSHA is looking to see if MFG Chemical violated any OSHA standards,” he said in an email but did not elaborate. “Under the OSHA Act, the company is responsible for the safety and health of its employees while at work.”
MFG ‘has a history’
Wald also said “OSHA does has a history with this company,” referring to MFG.
On April 12, 2004, a runaway chemical reaction during the production of triallyl cyanurate (TAC) at MFG released allyl alcohol and allyl chloride. That release forced more than 200 families from their homes and 154 people, including police and ambulance personnel, required treatment for chemical exposure. One MFG employee sustained minor chemical burns.
MFG was to pay $270,000 to resolve claims from that toxic release, the U.S. Justice Department said in 2009.
Wald released figures that showed MFG was levied total fines from OSHA of $37,750 on March 29, 2005, for the 2004 incident. MFG paid $21,250 “after informal settlement talks with OSHA,” documents emailed by Wald show.
He said the larger figure in fines levied by the Justice Department may have been for air pollution.
Satterfield said at some point there will be information sharing with investigating agencies.
“With OSHA being involved we did a brief investigation,” Satterfield said on Wednesday. “We know what (MFG) told us, we know what happened to the vessel (that became pressurized and ruptured). We’re probably not going to go any further with that, because they’re being looked at by all the ‘alphabet people’ — EPD, EPA, OSHA.”
Satterfield said the department has not been back to the scene since Monday.
“Typically, the way this works is (OSHA) will do their investigation down there and at some point they’ll be back here to get our reports,” he explained. “OSHA, EPD, EPA will all at some point be back here and asking (us) what did you see, what do you think happened, that kind of thing, what time you got there — just to make sure all the stories match.”
Satterfield was asked if the theory of the tank building pressure before it blew was being solidified.
“Those are statements given to us by the company,” he replied. “Typically there’s only one thing that can make that happen ... (MFG) did the emergency procedure (of trying to cool the tank down) and obviously that didn’t work.”
How an OSHA inspection works
The following is an explanation of the procedure the Office of Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) goes through after a workplace accident has been reported:
“An OSHA compliance officer tries to effectively use his or her time when originally arriving at a company (after a reported incident), but there are times when it is necessary for a compliance officer to return to a company more than once during the inspection process. While a compliance officer may begin an inspection because of a single incident, the officer may expand that inspection to include any other possible violations they may find at the company, even if those violations were not related to the original incident.
“The inspection includes a physical inspection of the facility, as well as interviews with anyone who might have knowledge of the incident (that include) management employees, non-management employees and anyone else who might have been on the scene at the time or who might have knowledge related to the incident. The compliance officer will also review any history OSHA has with the company.
“At the end of the inspection process, the compliance officer will produce a report on their findings and make recommendations on whether any violations were found; and if found, the nature of the violations, the needed remedies, and whether any fines should be proposed.
“Once that report has been approved by the OSHA Area Director, it will be presented to the company. The company can accept the findings and agree to make any needed changes, or ask for an informal meeting with OSHA to discuss the report, or appeal the decision to the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (www.oshrc.gov).”
Source: Michael Wald, regional director with the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Public Affairs in Atlanta