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Safety

Runaway reaction leads to toxic release, chemical board says

November 22, 2004 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 82, ISSUE 47

A chemical company's inability to control a chemical reaction and an erroneous accident emergency plan led to injuries of 17 police and ambulance personnel and the evacuation of more than 100 homes and businesses, says the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board in a draft accident report concerning MFG Chemical Inc., Dalton, Ga. Released last week, the report says a cloud of toxic allyl alcohol and possibly hydrogen chloride was released in April when a safety device on a 2,000-gal chemical reactor burst while the company's first production-scale batch of triallyl cyanurate was being processed. Board investigators say MFG was unable to control heat generated in the process, and that caused the runaway reaction. However, the board also says the company's emergency plan focused only on allyl alcohol's flammability and not its toxicity. As a result, MFG was not equipped to handle the toxic release and failed to communicate the release's toxicity to emergency responders and the community. Responders, the report says, lacked protective equipment and had no monitoring devices to detect airborne toxicity. They were forced to withdraw, as were ambulance crews who were also unaware of the toxicity and were sickened and unable to treat or remove victims. The accident is the latest in a string of incidents caused by uncontrolled chemical reactions, says the board, which is currently investigating seven similar accidents. A final report on the MFG incident is expected in the spring.

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