Published Thursday, July 22, 2010
The Newnan Times-Herald
Authorities say an employee of Gregory Packaging Inc. -- on Amlajack Boulevard in Shenandoah Industrial Park -- was seriously injured Tuesday evening in a chemical leak involving anhydrous ammonia.
Emergency responders report the unidentified victim suffered burns to his upper body and possibly to his respiratory tract as he inhaled ammonia fumes. He was transported by helicopter ambulance to the Augusta Burn Center for treatment. His condition was unknown Wednesday afternoon, according to Coweta Assistant Fire Chief Todd Moore.
The Coweta County Fire Department's hazardous materials unit remained on scene for nearly 24 hours until conditions inside the factory returned to normal.
The incident occurred at 5 p.m. Tuesday at 71 Amlajack Blvd. Fire crews arrived on scene to learn that the plant was experiencing an active ammonia leak and that a victim remained inside the building.
"They put themselves in harm's way to go in and bring that guy out as quickly as possible," said Moore. "They weighed the risk versus gain."
Firefighters carried the victim out of the building to an emergency decontamination station. After the chemical was removed, he was turned over to Coweta Emergency Medical Service for transport. He was first taken to Piedmont Newnan Hospital by ground ambulance before being transported to Augusta.
Moore said Wednesday that the victim was in "very serious condition" when firefighters turned him over to medical personnel. He was scheduled to undergo emergency surgery Wednesday, according to the assistant fire chief.
Three employees were exposed to the ammonia leak. Two of those employees were evaluated on the scene by EMS and then released without injury, according to Moore.
Members of the fire department's Special Operations Personnel were called to the scene to mitigate the leak. They entered the facility wearing special encapsulating suits. The crew found the active liquid leak about 20 feet off the ground in an 80-foot by 200-foot cooler.
They observed that, as the liquid ammonia hit the ground, it was turning into vapor. Crews used specialty, non-sparking tools to fix the leak in the valves. Fire crews worked with Rhino Services, a local clean-up company, to introduce carbon dioxide and dry ice to the leak, which "neutralizes the anhydraous ammonia turning it into a non-hazardous, inert powder," according to Moore.
The hazardous materials crew remained at the facility -- monitored by the state Environmental Protection Division -- until a little after 3:30 p.m. Wednesday when air conditions in and around the building were within the normal range.
"This response was truly a team effort," said Moore. "The Coweta County Sheriff's Office and Coweta EMS were instrumental in the success of this operation along with Cargill Meat Solutions, who sent its chemical expert to the scene. The employees and subcontractors of Gregory Packaging were a big help.
"Our crews are to be commended for the heroic rescue of the downed employee," Moore continued. "Without their quick action, his survival would have been questionable at best."