Some 50 employees working at Pacific Steel and Recycling's facility in Spokane, Wash., suffered injuries ranging from minor to critical when a chlorine tank placed on a conveyer belt exploded around 10 a.m. on Aug. 12, releasing a large cloud of chlorine gas.
Most employees were treated on the scene, but 13 were transferred to hospitals, with eight listed in critical condition. The Spokane Fire Department and emergency responders evacuated nearby buildings in the industrial park where the recycling center is located. Exposure to chlorine gas can be fatal or lead to severe respiratory damage. It also can cause burns to the eyes and skin.
When firefighters arrived on the scene, Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer told CNN they did not know what to expect and did not know what had sickened the employees. "It's a fire chief's worst nightmare," Schaeffer told CNN.
The firefighters arrived before hazmat teams, and the commanders on scene decided that the workers needed immediate rescue, so the firefighters entered the building. There were no reports of injuries to the firefighters.
Schaeffer told CNN the fire department rarely deals with chlorine gas and temperatures that day soared above 100 degrees. "This has been a really difficult day," he admitted.
On its web site, Pacific Steel and Recycling says the company “is committed to embracing a culture that excels in environmental, health and safety management practices. Pacific Steel and Recycling’s mission is to meet and exceed regulatory requirements to entrust a legacy of safe work practices and environmental stewardship that ensures sustainability for our families and the communities we serve.”
The employee-owned corporation has 46 branch offices in Washington, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, Colorado, Montana, and Alberta, Canada.