published Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Dalton chemical plant investigated after explosion

Workers from a commercial hazardous materials team place absorbent materials on a spill Monday near the MFG Chemical facility in Dalton, Ga. The chemical release of a water treatment product called Coagulant 129, caused several dozen workers at a nearby facility to be decontaminated.
Workers from a commercial hazardous materials team place absorbent materials on a spill Monday near the MFG Chemical facility in Dalton, Ga. The chemical release of a water treatment product called Coagulant 129, caused several dozen workers at a nearby facility to be decontaminated.
Photo by Joy Lukachick.

DALTON, Ga. — Federal and state investigators are looking into whether hundreds of pounds of compounds that spewed from a Dalton chemical plant Monday morning could contaminate the local water supply and whether the plant violated safety codes before the explosion.

On Monday morning, MFG Chemical workers were mixing 8,000 pounds of the compound known as Coaglant 129, used in water treatment, when the reactor overheated and some of the liquid spewed through the roof. Metal parts from the roof smashed into a next-door plant and liquid sprayed trucks, buildings and a nearby parking lot, officials said.

More than 40 people who worked in the industrial park around the plant were taken to the hospital and treated for possible symptoms, which included irritated skin and respiratory problems, Dalton Police Department spokesman Bruce Frazier said. All were released by Monday afternoon.

MFG Chemical President Charles Gavin declined requests for comment Monday, but issued a news release on the company website stating the compound wasn't toxic and the material was biodegradable.

Georgia Department of Natural Resources officials were testing the compound to make sure it wasn't harmful to the environment and wouldn't contaminate the water supply if rain washed it into a nearby stream, said Al Frazier, the department's manager of the emergency response team. Rain was forecast for later Monday.

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A company contracted by MFG Chemical was called in to clean up the compound, which had dried and left a yellow residue on the road and elsewhere.

MFG Chemical -- which manufactures chemicals used in markets such as agriculture, carpet and water treatment -- has been investigated before after what local officials say was the worst chemical spill in Dalton.

Workers were mixing chemicals in 2004 when a reactor malfunctioned and formed a vapor cloud that caused neighborhoods to be evacuated and sent more than 150 people to the hospital.

Officials said both spills were similar in that they were sparked by too much pressure in a reactor, but they were relieved this compound wasn't flammable and likely is not toxic, compared with the chemical called allyl alcohol that was released in 2004.

"It's a different chemical, and we're very fortunate this time," Dalton Fire Department Chief Bruce Satterfield said.

Employees working at nearby plants said the explosion Monday first sounded like a whistle and then a loud bang. Most of the workers ran to the back to take cover at International Coating, directly across the street from the chemical plant, and didn't see parts of the roof blow up.

Almost half of the workers taken to the hospital were employees at Beaulieu of America located next to the plant, officials said.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials were inspecting the chemical plant Monday. If officials find any safety violations, the plant will be cited, agency spokesman Michael Whitfield said.

OSHA's last inspection at the plant was in 2005 when officials followed up on the spill the year before, finding eight violations and fining the company $16,500, an inspection report showed.

Initially after the 2004 spill, investigators cited the plant for 17 safety violations, and the U.S. Chemical and Hazard Investigation Board found the spill could have been avoided through an in-depth study.

Investigators could take several months to complete their findings on this spill, officials said.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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