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Emergency responders, Cargill staff participate in drill Wednesday

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Security officer John Hall calls 911 as part of the chemical release drill at Cargill Meat Solutions on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012.
(Kelsey Alumbaugh/Democrat-News)
"Sixty-five Highway will be shut down ... we're going door to door, knocking on facilities and things in this area to evacuate just in case the wind shifts," said Roger Gibson, Marshall Police Department's public information officer.

Gibson, along with Cargill's Environmental Health and Safety Manager Frank Pooser and Tara Brewer of Saline County Health Department, kept the media abreast of developments throughout the simulation of a chemical spill at Cargill Meat Solutions.

"We are evacuating, getting everything secured," Gibson said. "The hazmat team was deployed. Now (Cargill's) accounting for the rest of the employees in the building."

A year after Cargill simulated a chemical spill with the assistance of the Local Emergency Planning Commission, it happened again -- a mock ammonia leak kept Cargill and emergency workers on their toes as the teams worked to resolve the supposed leak.

The incident was the most recent in a series of drills organized by LEPC, and incorporated resources from law enforcement, fire, ambulance, neighboring companies and the media.

The ammonia leak sprang from the plant's compressor room. A difference between this year and last year's drills: a man-down scenario. Pooser said responders weren't told about the rescue mission. Had the drill been a real event, participants' first priority is safety.

The first hazmat team removes an "injured employee" from the Cargill Meat Solutions plant as part of a chemical release exercise on Wednesday, Oct. 10. The employee was reported missing during roll call, found with a head injury and taken to Fitzgibbon Hospital. This was part of a drill performed by Cargill and members of Saline County Emergency Planning Coalition to train employees and first responders how to react in the case of an actual leak.
(David Roscher/Marshall Police Department)
"The number one priority is life safety," Pooser said. "It's the evacuation and rescue of anybody before we ... isolate the ammonia release. Once that's complete and we know that that's been achieved, then they'll actually go in and actually try to identify the leak -- where it occurred and how to isolate it."

Within minutes, participating Cargill employees had been evacuated from the site. But simultaneously, roll call indicated a missing person.

Brewer entered the media's post to update the public on current happenings.

"At this point, Cargill did report that there was someone missing, but they have since found and recovered that person," she said. "He has now been transported to Fitzgibbon Hospital."

Brewer stated every other employee had been accounted for and evacuated. Roads had been closed within a two-mile radius of the leak, and Cargill had an emergency phone line for residents wishing to check on the well-being of their loved ones.

Among the simulated chaos, hazmat teams went through a decontamination process while others worked to secure the compressor room.

"Throughout your entire refrigeration system, there's valves located throughout for the purpose of isolation," Pooser explained. "Those valves are numbered and that's what they're ... comparing to the piping and instrumentation drawings that actually identify where that's at."

Had the event been real, pipes would have had to be repaired before the company could resume work, but officials would conduct a full-scale investigation to identify the cause first, according to Pooser.

An anhydrous ammonia leak could pose a threat on multiple levels: from initial contact to inhalation. The ventilation process could also add to health risks as cold temperatures could cause a cloud of ammonia to form and settle over the site.

"Ammonia in high concentrations can be dangerous or actually can be fatal if breathed in high concentrations," Pooser said. "It's an immediate reaction."

After two hours passed and the area "ventilated" to blow out excess ammonia, Cargill and LEPC coordinators assessed the drill. A major concern was communication between all participating parties.

Mark Driskell, Cargill incident manager, discussed radio communication improvements.

"Things we're going to work on ... communication with our radios," Driskell said. "I think as far as the drill, the individual entities ... I thought was very well laid out. Everybody knew who was supposed to do what."

However, not all participants were on the same frequency, which is an issue that needs to be considered according to Driskell. The drill also providing neighboring business ConAgra additional training. The company responded to the scenario with a hazmat trailer and two responders. ConAgra recently completed its own emergency drill, but was able to monitor their response time to fellow community members.

"It's different when you actually get the live scenario," Driskell continued. "It's good to make confusion somewhat because this incident's not going to happen at 1 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon. ... (In actuality) it's going to happen at 2 o'clock in the morning, when no one's around."

Overall, the drill was considered a success.

"I think the groups are all very responsive, very eager to come up with better methods and better means of making things safe. The end result... we want to keep everyone safe," Driskell said.

The LEPC's next emergency response drill may be a simulated event with Missouri Valley College, but has yet to be confirmed.

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It certainly is appropriate to use simulations/drills and other means to prepare for possible emergency situations, such as a hazardous chemical release. The LEPC, local hazmat organization and local industries that make/use/store/transport hazardous chemicals should also consider the acquisition and use of commercially available technologies (software and hardware) that specifically deal with chemical releases and allow emergency management and response personnel to not only run simulations/drills but also to more effectively detect and respond to a real chemical emergency. But buyer beware. Some chemical emergency response technologies from the so-called industry leaders may not live up to the sales hype. Two good articles to read are Chemical Emergencies: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow published in EHS Today, a Penton Media publication, Feb 1, 2010 and 10 Things You Should Know Before Buying Hazmat/Chemical Emergency Technologies, written by Chris Cowles and also published in EHS Today by Penton Media November 30, 2011. Both articles are posted on the EHS Today website.

-- Posted by CCsafetyguy on Thu, Oct 11, 2012, at 2:59 PM

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