The Fayette Citizen-News Page
Wednesday, November 10, 1999
PTC fumes incident sparks county concern about HazMat response

Late call for help could have spelled disaster, says Dunn

Staff Writer

The state's finest hazardous materials disaster response team didn't swing into action until hours after a release of potentially deadly chemical gases recently, and Fayette County commissioners are looking for ways to make sure that doesn't happen again.

“The tragedy here is that we weren't asked to respond on a timely basis,” said Commissioner Greg Dunn.

Dunn spoke up during last week's commission meeting, responding to a story in the Nov. 3 edition of The Citizen about an incident at Peachtree City's Wilden Plastics industrial plant.

The company is not a member of the county's Local Emergency Planning Committee, a group composed of industry representatives, experts from the Department of Fire and Emergency Services and hazardous materials experts from Peachtree City and Fayetteville fire departments.

A model for hazardous materials teams all over the country, the committee conducts extensive training with industry workers and emergency workers from all county jurisdictions, so everyone involved will know just what to do in an emergency.

But, since Wilden is not a participant, when a gaseous emission sent six employees to the hospital Oct. 29, officials there didn't know to immediately dial 911, where operators are trained to alert the county's Hazardous Materials Team.

Fortunately, Fayette Community Hospital is a committee participant, and when the Wilden employees showed up to be treated for inhalation of the fumes, Fayette's well-oiled plan was enacted.

Emergency responders from Fayetteville checked the hospital for chemical contamination, and Peachtree City's emergency workers rushed to the industrial plant and, using high-technology monitors borrowed from Photocircuits Inc. as part of the Fayette County Resource Council, established that there was no further danger to the surrounding community or plant workers.

It's fortunate that the incident turned out that way, said Dunn, but the delay in calling 911 could have been disastrous. “This could have been a tremendous catastrophe for our community,” he said. “We have probably the best system there is, but we can't respond if we're not told about the problem.”

Dunn wondered whether there might be some way to force all county industries to participate in the emergency committee, but county attorney Bill McNally said that's not possible. But ordinances could be enacted to require specific responses in case of spills or other problems, he said.

Chief Jack Krakeel, director of the county Department of Fire and Emergency Services, said he and Capt. Pete Nelms, who heads up the Hazardous Materials Team, will redouble their efforts to get all the county's industries involved in the team, and will look for other ways to increase the level of preparedness.

Commissioner Linda Wells suggested creating posters with specific information for each industry, listing potentially dangerous chemicals present in each and instructing workers to dial 911 if any problems occur.

Even if workers at a plant are trained in the proper procedures, there's always turnover, she said, and new workers might not have that training. The posters would ensure that instructions are handy when a problem occurs, she said.

Krakeel said the department also is looking into preparing information packets for new industries coming to town, after Dunn noted that in the Citizen article, a Wilden employee was quoted as saying he didn't even know the HazMat Team existed until the Oct. 29 incident.

The good news, Krakeel said, is that everyone involved responded quickly and properly once notified of the Wilden problem. “The hospital did exactly what they were supposed to do,” he said, adding that Peachtree City and Fayetteville personnel were lightning fast with their response.

“It's a good lesson that we need to continually educate, not only the current participants [in the team], but also educate every industry of how important it is to become an active participant in the process,” he said.


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