Chemical Firm Cited in South Carolina Ammonia Leak

January 6, 2010

A chemical company committed seven serious violations and was fined more than $23,000 after a ruptured hose caused an ammonia leak that killed a passing motorist in July, South Carolina workplace safety officials announced.

Southampton, Pa.-based Tanner Industries didn’t have proper safety valves in place that could have lessened the severity of the leak, didn’t have an alarm system to warn others of the leak and used an improper hose to transfer the liquid anhydrous ammonia from a truck to a storage tank, according to the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

About 1,800 gallons of the hazardous chemical typically used in cleaning products spewed from a fist-sized hole in the hose on July 15. It was about a quarter of the 7,500 gallons being transferred.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it continues to investigate the incident to determine why the hose burst.

The liquid quickly evaporated into a dangerous cloud, which drifted away from the plant in Swansea, about 25 miles south of Columbia. The chemical cloud turned bushes and grass black before floating over U.S. 321, killing 38-year-old Jacqueline Ginyard as she drove to work.

More than a dozen people were injured, including two Tanner Industries workers, who OSHA said didn’t have proper safety training and should have been wearing special breathing apparatus when they responded to the accident.

The trucking company, Werner Transportation Services Inc. of Omaha, Neb., was cited for four serious violations and fined $5,125. Two of its workers also weren’t wearing and were not trained to use special breathing equipment, including one who finally managed to make it to the emergency shut-off valve, according to OSHA.

The number of serious violations against both companies were well above the two or three that workplace inspectors usually find, said Jim Knight, a spokesman for the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

Tanner Industries continues to cooperate with authorities investigating the leak, company spokesman David Binder said. Wednesday’s violations mark the first time state workplace safety officials have cited the facility in Swansea.

Officials from Werner Transportation Services didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.

The companies have 20 days to correct the violations and pay the fines or appeal them.

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