TAMPA – State environmental officials Friday began searching through records of a phosphate company and interviewing Polk County residents who said they became ill after breathing fumes from a mile-long gas cloud.
State officials said US Agri-Chemical company near Fort Meade may be responsible for causing the gas cloud Wednesday over parts of Polk and Manatee counties.
At least two people went to the hospital after they vomited and had trouble breathing, said Chi-Sun Lee, an engineer for the state Department of Environmental Regulation (DER). Some residents also complained of eye and nose irritations, he said.
Lee said sulphur dioxide may have been released into the air after a power outage at 6:13 p.m. A plant reactor that converts sulphur dioxide into sulfuric acid stopped functioning, Lee said. He said the power outage lasted about an hour.
Lee said he expects to finish reviewing the company’s records early next week.
Some residents said the cloud made breathing difficult.
Brenda Chewning, who lives with her husband and two children near the company, said the fumes permeated her mobile home.
“It just felt like your nose and throat were on fire,” she said.
She said her 8-year-old son had to be rushed to Bartow Memorial Hospital because he couldn’t stop vomiting. Mrs. Chewning said she also had trouble breathing.
She said doctors took blood and urine samples, but that the results were negative. One doctor told her the effects may not become apparent for days, she said.