POINT COMFORT – Alcoa officials refused to make any comment on the industrial accident that sent seven plant workers to hospital on Wednesday after being exposed to hydrogen fluoride gas.
Alcoa’s public information officer, Laura Cahill, said she could not answer questions regarding how the employees were exposed or provide details on the extent of their exposure on Wednesday.
This incident follows one on Jan. 2 in which a 37-year-old Port Lavaca man lost his life in that part of the Point Comfort plant.
Dolton died that night after inhaling hydrogen fluoride gas while attempting to clean a vacuum, according to a report by inspectors of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Inhaling hydrogen fluoride gas can range from severe irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, delayed fever, pulmonary edema to death.
Two Alcoa workers were exposed to the gas, three others working nearby were affected and there was concern that two others could possibly be contaminated.
Dolton had been doing maintenance work when he was exposed in January.
Both incidents happened in the area of the plant where aluminum fluoride is made.
All seven Alcoa workers had been released from Victoria and Galveston hospitals by Thursday. Five of them were taken by ambulance to Citizens Medical Center where they were treated and released Wednesday night.
Two were taken by air ambulance to the University of Texas Medical Branch for observation and were released Thursday,
“We immediately shut down that part of the plant. We have people on site. We dispatched them immediately,” Amy Louviere, spokeswoman for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said.
The administration sent four people, including two inspectors to the plant.
“We will continue to investigate and make our findings available,” she said.
The accident that caused Dolton’s death was because of management failed to establish procedures to ensure that technicians could work safely on vacuum monitoring lines, according to a report by inspectors of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
The procedures, “did not require them to wear a respirator or face shield to protect them from hydrogen fluoride exposure.
“Additionally, established procedures did not require technicians to use a special wash out tube designed to seal or clean around the clean out drill bit and prevent pressure or hydrogen fluoride from escaping during the clean out process.”
The administration immediately shut down activities at the accident site until investigators determined it was safe to resume operation.
The order was lifted February 2, “after conditions that contributed to the accident no longer existed,” the report continued.