Chemical company faulted in Georgia chemical release accident

Published 13 April 2006

The reckless behavior of a Georgia chemical plant is yet another proof — if one were needed — that “voluntary, industry-developed” chemical plant safety standards are anything but; forget safety measures: The company managers and engineers did not even bother to consult studies in the open literature about the new chemical process they were experimenting with

The debate intensifies over what type of government supervision chemical companies would be subjected to in order to ensure that they take minimal safety measures to prevent costly disasters. Until recently, the chemical industry and its supporters in Congress preferred what is euphemistically called “voluntary, industry-developed” safety standards. Industry supporters would say that it is unfair to point to MFG, the company being faulted for the accident, as an example of a company practicing “industry-developed” standards since the company did not follow these standards. Leaving aside the question of the adequacy of these standards, one thing can be asserted: MFG followed the “voluntary” aspect of the standards by choosing to ignore them.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) issued a report saying that lackluster emergency response exacerbated a 2004 toxic vapor release in Georgia which resulted in a mass evacuation and hospitalization of local citizens. The CSB is an independent federal agency. It found that Dalton, Georgia-based MFG Chemical “did not prepare and implement an adequate emergency response plan” in an incident that resulted in the release of toxic allyl alcohol and allyl chloride into a surrounding neighborhood.

The City of Dalton and Whitfield County, where the plant was located, had not outfitted its police officers with protective equipment and had not implemented a notification system for residents, delaying response until firefighters could be called in, according to the report. The vapor release resulted in the evacuation of 200 families. More than 150 people received treatment for chemical exposure, and one plant employee was hospitalized for chemical burns.

The 2004 accident in Dalton underscores the vital role of communities in preparing for chemical accidents and minimizing the harm to the public,” CSB chair Carolyn Merritt said in a statement. “Effective prevention and effective emergency planning go hand-in-hand.”

MFG operates two facilities in Dalton. The Brooks Road plant is a multiprocess plant with synthesis in glass and stainless steel reactors and wet and dry compounding. The Callahan Road plant specializes in polymers in both glass and stainless reactors.