Chemical spill at Dalton raises safety concerns

Chemical spill at Dalton raises safety concerns

June 8th, 2012 by Joy Lukachick Smith in News

Firefighters stand near a chemical cleaning truck on Callahan Road in Dalton, Ga., on May 12 after a chemical explosion at MFG Chemical. The explosion occurred while the company was manufacturing the chemical Coagulant 129, which is used in water treatment.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

State and federal authorities still are investigating whether a Dalton plant violated safety procedures when a chemical compound spewed into the air two weeks ago.

But officials have determined the chemical wasn't harmful to the waterways.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials are probing whether MFG Chemical violated safety procedures May 21 when a reactor overheated and spewed a water-treatment chemical through the roof and onto buildings, machinery and cars in a nearby parking lot.

At the time, 47 people were taken to a hospital and treated for symptoms of contamination, then released the same day.

Georgia's Environmental Protection Division tested the chemical, called Coagulant 129, and determined it had no effect on nearby creeks or any aquatic life, said Al Frazier, a division spokesman.

More than 15,000 gallons of liquid waste was gathered from the chemical compound, runoff water and rain after the recent spill. Frazier said they were satisfied with the methods used to dispose of the waste.

But safety officials have yet to determine any safety issues inside the building. The last OSHA inspection came a year after a 2004 spill at MFG, when officials determined the company had eight violations. Initially, the plant was cited for 17 safety violations.

In a news release Thursday, MFG Chemical President Charles "Chuck" Gavin said that all chemical operators at the plant have completed a 28-hour training course through Georgia Northwestern Technical College, which trains employees on OSHA safety compliance. But Gavin didn't respond to other questions about safety issues at the plant.

U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board officials said the recent explosion won't be investigated, but spokeswoman Hillary Cohen said they are following up with other outstanding safety issues brought up since the spill.

The last time the federal regulatory board looked into the plant was after the 2004 spill in which a toxic and flammable vapor was released, sending more than 150 people to the hospital. That spill discharged more than 3,000 pounds of allyl alcohol into nearby creeks, killing aquatic life and contaminating the water, court records show.

At the time, Chemical and Safety and Hazard Investigation Board members identified several key safety issues at MFG, including that the plant didn't have an emergency response plan and hadn't trained employees on how to respond in an emergency.

In 2011, MFG officials settled their last dispute with the federal government. U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy dismissed the Environmental Protection Agency lawsuit against the plant after officials paid a $270,000 penalty.