There were some tense moments Friday morning at a local chemical company in North Chattanooga. While workers at JIT Chemicals at 530 Manufacturers Road were off-loading a caustic soda from a barge into a storage tank, some of the product spilled out, and then a fire erupted.
The workers evacuated the immediate area and called 911 just before 9 a.m. The Chattanooga Fire Department responded with six fire companies and the haz-mat team. With assistance from Chattanooga police, Manufacturers Road near the plant was completely blocked off as a precaution.
Battalion Chief Chris Willmore said the caustic soda was identified as a 50% solution of sodium hydroxide. Plant employees and response personnel estimate that 2,000 to 3,000 gallons of the product spilled out around the storage tank. Chief Willmore said the tank is surrounded by an earthen dike that contained all of the spilled caustic soda. When the leak and fire occurred, one worker was contaminated with the caustic soda. The 31-year-old male was transported by Hamilton County EMS to Erlanger Medical Center, where he was expected to be treated and released.
The firefighters used water to extinguish the fire on the side of the storage tank, and kept spraying water on the tank until a valve was closed to stop the flow of the caustic soda. An environmental cleanup company will work with JIT workers to clean up the spilled caustic soda. Plant personnel will also be investigating the cause of the incident. Other state and federal regulatory agencies may be involved in that investigation.
Hamilton County Emergency Services and Chattanooga-Hamilton County Rescue also provided assistance.