An employee with the Coca-Cola Bottling Company was seriously injured around 10:30 a.m. on Friday, in a hazardous materials incident.
The employee was reportedly filling a large, plastic container with a hazardous substance when the chemical splashed onto him. Fellow employees at the plant got the victim away from the container and called 911. The Chattanooga Fire Department responded to the plant at 4000 Amnicola Highway with six fire companies, as well as a full response from the hazardous materials team.
Exactly what caused the accident is still being determined, but Assistant Chief Danny Hague with the haz-mat team said it appeared that the container might have been over-pressurized, causing it to "rupture violently" and splash some of the chemical onto the employee.
The victim was transported to Erlanger Medical Center by Hamilton County EMS. At the time of this release, his condition was still being evaluated in the emergency room.
The department's haz-mat technicians were initially told that the chemical involved was Chlorine Dioxide. A few hours later, Chief Hague said it was determined that the chemical was a "Chlorite Solution." There were approximately 250 gallons of the Chlorite Solution in the container when it ruptured. The plant was evacuated and the area was sealed off for the haz-mat team.
In the meantime, firefighters sprayed water on the damaged container to help contain the vapor cloud coming from the chemical. Chief Hague said most of the vapor was kept on-site and never presented a danger to the public. He added that the water runoff was kept in drainage lines on site, and never reached South Chickamauga Creek, which is located nearby.
Marion Environmental, an environmental cleanup company, transferred the remaining Chlorite Solution from the damaged container into a new container. Firefighters then used water to flush the drains on site. That water was then retrieved by Marion Environmental, which will treat the water and neutralize the solution.
The plant normally has 219 employees on site, but today a plant employee said it was running a "skeleton crew," with only 30 employees on site when the accident happened. By mid-afternoon, the haz-mat team had finished its operation and turned the site back over to Coca-Cola and Marion Environmental, which would continue with the cleanup operation.
An update on the plant's operation was not available. Chattanooga police also provided valuable assistance on the scene.