Washington, DC, April 16, 2004 - The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) today announced it will conduct a root-cause investigation of the April 12 chemical accident at the MFG Chemical Inc. facility in Dalton, Georgia, which triggered a release of toxic allyl alcohol and hydrochloric acid into the surrounding community.
Over the next several weeks investigators will continue to assess the nature, size, and impact of the release and will begin analyzing samples of chemicals recovered from the plant. Ultimately the Board will issue a public report establishing the root causes of the accident and issuing safety recommendations designed to prevent the recurrence of similar accidents at facilities around the country. Board investigations typically take 9 to 12 months to complete.
The accident occurred at approximately 9:30 p.m. Monday evening at MFG's Callahan Road facility in Dalton, as operators were preparing for the first full-scale batch of a new chemical product intended for use in the rubber industry. Seven of the facility's approximately 35 employees were present at the time.
To begin the process, operators added allyl alcohol, cyanuric chloride, and a catalyst (a substance designed to accelerate a chemical reaction) into a 4,000-gallon processing vessel. After the chemicals were added, the internal temperature in the vessel began rising rapidly. Increasing pressure burst the vessel's rupture disk, a safety device designed to protect a vessel from catastrophic over-pressurization and failure. Heated chemicals were then forced through the vent line onto the first floor of the facility, forming a gas cloud that traveled out into the surrounding community. Hydrochloric acid was generated inside the vessel and was released, together with allyl alcohol.
Although no fire was observed, emergency responders applied a significant quantity of water in an effort to control the gas cloud and cool the processing vessel. Workers and residents within about one-quarter mile of the facility were evacuated until the following day due to the chemical release. Based on initial figures, 184 people were seen at a local hospital for possible chemical exposure, including 31 who were transported there by ambulance. Six people were hospitalized overnight on Monday, and all were subsequently released. Vegetation in the vicinity of the plant site was damaged by chemical exposure, and fish in a nearby stream were killed by contaminated water runoff from the emergency response.
CSB lead investigator John Vorderbrueggen said: "We have completed a number of interviews with plant personnel and will be proceeding to gather data about the effect of this unfortunate accident on the community. MFG Chemical Inc. has been cooperating fully with our investigation and has voluntarily provided access to its employees and the accident site and is furnishing the Board with documentary evidence."
According to Board member Dr. Gerald Poje, who accompanied the field team, "The Board is seriously concerned about the public impact of a chemical release of this magnitude. Uncontrolled chemical reactions represent a significant safety problem throughout the country, and when toxic materials are involved there is a potential for serious adverse consequences for workers, residents, and the environment. As the investigation proceeds, the Board will be returning to Dalton to collect more evidence and to keep community members informed on our findings."
A 2002 CSB hazard investigation found that uncontrolled chemical reactions caused 167 serious accidents that occurred in the U.S. between 1980 and 2001. Together the accidents caused more than 100 fatalities as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage. The Board issued a variety of recommendations to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the chemical industry to reduce the occurrence of reactive chemical accidents.
CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in safety management systems. Typically, the investigations involve extensive witness interviews, examination of physical evidence, and chemical and forensic testing.
The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. The Board designates formal responses to its recommendations as acceptable or unacceptable, open or closed. Further information about the CSB is available from www.csb.gov.
For more information, contact Daniel Horowitz, 202-261-7613 / 202-441-6074 (cell) or Sandy Gilmour Communications, 202-261-7614 / 202-251-5496 (cell).