The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board issued its preliminary findings on the April 12 incident at MFG Chemical Inc., which produces coatings and other substances for the textile industry. Workers were mixing chemicals when a reactor overheated, causing the vapor cloud to be released over the area, authorities said.
The vapors contained allyl alcohol, commonly used as a starting material in making various polymers, pharmaceuticals and pesticides, and possibly hydrochloric acid, a highly corrosive substance commonly used for cleaning.
Because it was the plant's first time producing such a large batch of that particular chemical mixture, operators were inexperienced in dealing with the amount of heat generated from the reactor, causing it to be ``over-pressurized, bursting a safety device known as a 'rupture disk,''' the report said.
The federal agency cited MFG for not having an adequate emergency plan and failing to provide first responders with complete information about the chemicals they were using.
Plant operators were ``unaware of federal EPA regulations that ... require an assessment of process hazards as well as the development of comprehensive accident prevention and response plans,'' the report said.
About 150 people, including some police officers and ambulance workers, were exposed to the vapors and were treated for minor symptoms, including burning eyes and throats. No serious health problems were reported. Hundreds of residents and workers within a half-mile radius of the plant were evacuated until the next day.
The government report also pointed to problems in the Dalton fire and police departments' response to the incident.
While the two agencies responded quickly, both ``lacked the equipment, training and hazard information needed to effectively and safely respond to this kind of incident,'' the board's lead investigator John Vorderbruggen said in the report.
The board noted that they lacked protective suits and monitoring devices that detect airborne chemicals, and that delayed containment of the area and contributed to 17 emergency personnel becoming sick from the fumes.
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board is an independent government agency that does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups and federal regulatory agencies.
The Dalton incident was seventh ``serious reactive accident'' to be investigated by the federal agency since September 2002, the report said.
On The Net:
U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board