Machine Failure Chemical Leak Cause

Friday, October 5, 2012 @ 05:10 PM gHale

A machine failure at a nearby chemical plant may have been the cause of odors that forced the evacuation of nearby Marinette Marine Corp. in Marinette, WI.

The production line where the release occurred remained shut down as workers inspected equipment and took other steps to ensure that the problem doesn’t recur, said Timothy Swavely, ChemDesign director of environmental health and safety. But the business continues to operate.

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It appears the motor stopped on a “pre-scrubber” — a machine that controls chemical odors in a building at ChemDesign Products, 2 Stanton St., and the strong smell escaped through a chemical plant stack, he said. Some Marinette Marine workers complained of nausea and headache, and officials sent all workers from the shift home early as a precaution.

No workers sought medical treatment, emergency management officials said.

As a standard procedure, a ChemDesign supervisor shut down operations before Marinette Marine reported the odor at 6:07 p.m. Tuesday, he said, though by that time the odor already released. Swavely said no actual chemicals released, just the odor from chemicals inside the plant.

Marinette County Emergency Management initially reported the release of a chemical, 1,1-Dimethoxy-N,N-dimethylmethanamine, which came from an ammonia-based product at ChemDesign. The company is about two blocks east of Marinette Marine.

A county hazardous materials team responded and they were able to confine the release to the ChemDesign and Marinette Marine sites, authorities said. Both companies are on Marinette’s north side.

The release at ChemDesign stopped at 9:20 p.m., a little more than three hours after the first report, emergency management said.

The hazardous materials team remained at both sites to further monitor the air quality, as well as two vessels under construction at Marinette Marine. The company builds ships for the U.S. Navy.

ChemDesign, which employs 108 people, makes components for agricultural and paper products. It stopped operations Tuesday while the company investigated the cause. Work should resume within a few days once the investigation is complete.

A U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigator visited the site Wednesday and the agency decided not to investigate the incident.

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