ATLANTA (AP) — An accident at a chemical plant in Dalton injured a worker Monday and briefly caused authorities to close roads and warn residents in nearby apartments to stay inside, officials said.
The accident marked a third serious safety incident for MFG Chemical Inc. Another of the company's facilities in Dalton suffered a runaway reaction in 2004 that forced a nine-hour evacuation and a reactor explosion in 2012.
"Sometimes with these incidents that keep occurring, yes, we do have some concerns," Dalton Fire Chief Bruce Satterfield said.
The incident Monday started just after 6 a.m. at an industrial park on Kimberly Park Drive, not far from Interstate 75. A worker was adding a chemical into a reactor to produce maleic anhydride, Satterfield said. A chemical reaction quickly produced a vapor that escaped before the worker could shut a lid.
That worker, whose name was not released, inhaled the vapor and appeared to have injured his respiratory tract, Satterfield said. He was flown by helicopter to a burn center in Augusta.
It was not immediately clear what chemicals were in the vapor. Maleic anhydride is commonly used to manufacture polyester resins used in boats, cars, buildings and electrical goods, and in other products, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Inhaling it can irritate the larynx, cause coughing, headaches and eye irritation.
There were conflicting reports over whether the vapor left the facility. MFG Chemical said in a written statement that the release was contained within its plant and that it posed no threat to the public. However, Satterfield said fire crews arriving at the scene noticed that some vapor was leaving the site. Investigators for the Dalton fire department and Georgia's Environmental Protection Division were still trying to determine Monday exactly what happened.
"We're investigating that, and we haven't come to any conclusions," said Woody Mader, the company's commercial development manager.
The chemical reaction had stopped by the time firefighters arrived. Emergency officials initially closed several roads near the plant and told the residents of a nearby apartment complex to stay indoors. Those precautions were subsequently lifted.
MFG Chemical operates three chemical plants in Dalton and sells a variety of products used in the textile, mining, oil and paper industries. Another of its plants in Dalton has twice suffered serious accidents.
On April 12, 2004, a runaway reaction at a facility on Callahan Road released highly toxic and flammable chemicals, forcing the evacuation of more than 200 families, according to a report by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. One worker suffered chemical burns and 154 people needed to be decontaminated and treated for chemical exposure.
Federal investigators faulted MFG Chemical for several failures in that accident, including not anticipating the potential chemical hazards and not preparing adequate emergency response plans.
Another runaway reaction at the same plant on May 21, 2012, created too much pressure in a reactor, ruptured a dome cover and blew a hole in the roof of the building, according to findings by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Investigators said 40 people working in the area were sent to the hospital for decontamination. MFG Chemical paid $57,055 in penalties for safety violations identified by inspectors after that accident, OSHA spokesman Lindsay Williams said.
OSHA is investigating the latest accident.