Reba Pritchett has emphysema and said she’s “afraid every day” of a possible emergency at nearby MFG Chemical. The company has had two incidents in eight years that have sent people to the hospital for exposure to released chemicals and/or decontamination.
“They haven’t bothered me, but I don’t like them being there,” said Pritchett, who has lived in a mobile home on Abutment Road for 19 years.
“I’ve got COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) and I’m afraid every day something’s going to blow up,” she said. “I can smell them every day when they crank those things up. Sometimes it smells like rotten eggs and can take your breath away.”
“I’d like to move my trailer way out in the country, but I can’t afford to,” she shared. “I think it can be very dangerous for us that live here close by.”
In late May, a rupture that blew a pressure release disk through the roof at MFG and a wall at a neighboring carpet mill sent 43 people to Hamilton Medical Center for decontamination. None of the workers had lasting injuries, a hospital spokesman said.
The Office of Safety and Health Administration is checking to see if the Dalton company violated OSHA standards, said spokesman Michael Wald of the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Public Affairs in Atlanta.
“OSHA does has a history with this company,” Wald said.
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.
On Thursday, MFG issued a release saying all of the company’s chemical operators had completed a 28-hour training course administered by Georgia Northwestern Technical College that covered basic safety, reactors, control systems and OSHA safety compliance, among other topics. Company President and CEO Chuck Gavin did not immediately return a phone call on Friday.
Wald said on Friday in an email the current investigation of MFG Chemical is “ongoing, so there is nothing new to report.”
Other concerns — and notification
Mary Lou Gobble is homebound on Abutment Road and has lived in the Industrial Park area many years.
“I’ve seen it grow a lot,” she said. “It concerns me about the explosions and what it might do to the air ... they put something on my phone, 911 took my number and they put it on my main (phone) line coming in. They didn’t bother to call me (two weeks ago), but I guess the wind was going the other way.”
Frankie Martin lives on Tuftco Drive on the northern arc of Industrial Park and said she’s aware of odors in the area.
“There’s a plant down the road that smells funny sometimes, but I don’t know which one it is,” she said. “A few years ago one of the companies was dumping industrial waste at the end of the street, but they went out of business. I don’t really have any concerns up here — that (last incident) happened away from here.”
Jeff Ownby, deputy 911 director for the county, said the new CodeRED emergency notification system worked as it was designed in the latest MFG incident.
“The Dalton Fire Department asked us to send the message out,” he said. “They were the ones on the scene so I think that might have been their jurisdiction, but the county fire department was there, too. They asked us to send out a brief message asking people to stay inside their homes until they identified what was going on.”
Ownby said 81 calls were made around 9 a.m. that morning, shortly after the incident was reported.
“When they got control of the scene and figured out it wasn’t as bad or toxic as it might have been we sent a follow-up message just saying that everything was OK — you know, go back to your normal business, more or less — and that call was made at 11:09 (a.m.),” he said. “That call went out to the exact same 81 people, and I think that’s a half-mile radius is what they wanted us to (contact).”
Ownby said the message system “worked real well.”
“Basically, we just found the address for MFG and plotted a half-mile radius around it,” he explained. “It identified the phone numbers that were in that area that were either listed — because we have listed phone numbers — or for those that registered online or called us with their cellphones or unlisted numbers. That’s how they got the notification. So we’re still trying to get the word out there to register, because if you have a cellphone number or unlisted number we don’t have you unless you registered with us.”
Randy Campbell of Ann’s Place at 2499 Abutment Road, a local diner, said he “lives and works” in the industrial area.
“I’m concerned a little bit, but the way they handled that (last incident) and as fast as they responded, I felt safe,” he relayed. “I sat here and watched it — the (hazardous materials) team was right on top of it. I’m an old maintenance man myself, so I was pretty happy with the way they handled it. It was efficient, professional and they let us know what was going on. It was an inconvenience (for the business), but that’s par for the course. I appreciated them letting us know stuff — when I asked them if we needed to evacuate, they gave us an explanation of why we didn’t need to.”
To sign up for the CodeRED Emergency Notification System — which also provides severe weather alerts — citizens can log on to the county website at www.whitfieldcountyga.com and follow the CodeRED link on the right side of the homepage. Those without Internet access may call (706) 370-4911 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Required information includes a street address (physical address, no P.O. boxes) for location purposes and a primary phone number. Additional phone numbers, email and text addresses may also be entered.