CORDELE, Ga. — An inadvertent release of a chemical pesticide at a Crisp County chemical manufacturer was behind a pungent odor that wafted through several counties early Wednesday morning.
Georgia Emergency Management officials say that two dozen 55-gallon drums containing an insecticide ruptured, some exploded, early Wednesday morning at Drexel Chemical Company. Low cloud cover kept a minor chemical cloud in the area, exposing several counties to a strong odor.
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At least four people were hospitalized, Ken Davis, a GEMA spokesperson, said.
Crisp County Fire Chief Ray Lunsford said that his units responded to Drexel Chemical around 2 a.m. Wednesday morning.
“We were on scene from about 1:45 in the morning until about 4:06,” Lunsford said. “We’ve spoken with a (Georgia Emergency Management Agency) representative and have notified the local hospitals. Right now the odor or chemical could cause some issues for people with respiratory problems but mostly its just a nuisance.”
People with respiratory problems are advised to avoid prolonged time outdoors if you can smell the odor.
Carolyn Maschke, a spokesperson with the Southwest Georgia Department of Community Health, said that the district’s emergency preparedness director has been in touch with GEMA and, based on the information provided, officials didn’t believe there was any reason to issue a public health alert.
“At this time, based on what we generally know about the chemicals involved, we don’t believe that this is a public health concern,” Maschke said.
Low-lying clouds kept the chemical odor entrenched in Southwest Georgia for much of the morning, with reports of the odor coming in from as far as Tifton and Blakely. By late afternoon, the plume had moved into southern Alabama.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division said that the chemical dispersed was Dimethoate, an organophosphate insecticide used to attack the central nervous system of insects for agricultural purposes.
According to its pesticide profile on Cornell University’s website, the chemical can cause health problems for humans if administered in certain quantity. Public health officials believe that the amount that was released Wednesday morning wasn’t enough to cause widespread health concerns.
“Dimethoate is an insecticide used to kill mites and insects systemically and on contact. It is used against a wide range of insects, including aphids, thrips, planthoppers and whiteflies on ornamental plants, alfalfa, apples, corn, cotton, grapefruit, grapes, lemons, melons, oranges, pears, pecans, safflower, sorghum, soybeans, tangerines, tobacco, tomatoes, watermelons, wheat and other vegetables. It is also used as a residual wall spray in farm buildings for house flies. Dimethoate has been administered to livestock for control of botflies. Dimethoate is available in aerosol spray, dust, emulsifiable concentrate, and ULV concentrate formulations (2, 3),” the profile states.
Kevin Chambers, a spokesperson for EPD, said that agency officials were working with officials on site to oversee the cleanup of the chemical.
“It’s described as a mild irritant that can irritate the eyes, nose and mouth,” Chambers said.
Chambers said that it appeared that the company had been trying to turn the chemical from a cold, solid state into its natural liquid form by heating it up in a hot liquid bath. When the liquid bath got too hot, the barrels ruptured.