Mountaire chemical explosion causes severe injury

A 34-year-old man was severely injured in a minor chemical explosion at Mountaire poultry processing plant in Selbyville earlier this month.

According to officials, in the early morning of Thursday, Feb. 9, a Mountaire employee suffered facial trauma and chemical burns when he accidently mixed two cleaning chemicals that caused an explosive reaction.

There was no fire, and emergency workers were called in to deal with the injury and chemical cleanup.

“The gentleman was part of cleaning detail. He was filling up a sprayer to spray down and clean various areas of the plant. As it’s been related to us, he unknowingly mixed two chemicals that cannot be mixed together,” said Fire Chief Matt Sliwa of the Selbyville Volunteer Fire Company.

There were no other injuries, but several emergency responders went through a decontamination process.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office determined that the incident occurred when the worker “mistakenly mixed two chemicals in a 2.5-gallon sprayer. The sprayer over-pressurized, causing it to explode. Minor damage was caused to the room where the explosion occurred.”

The Fire Marshal’s Office could not confirm the identities of the two chemicals that were mixed together. The incident occurred around 3 a.m. at the Hosier Street location, in a room near the garage bays.

“It was in what they call it their ‘chemical room,’ but I don’t know if they consider that part of the plant or wastewater plant,” said Selbyville Police Chief W. Scott Collins.

“Third shift is a cleaning shift. They’re not actually processing anything,” Sliwa noted.

“He was critical at that point,” he added of the worker’s condition when emergency responders arrived on-scene. “They wanted to try and fly him to shock-trauma at some point, but with the weather issues and high wind conditions,” it was safer to drive to Peninsula Regional Medical Center, said Sliwa.

“Then he was supposed to be shipped to shock-trauma or another burn unit,” said Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Harry Miller. “We know they have a long process [for recovery] with facial burns.”

Because of the chemical element, extra support came from the Sussex County EMS HazMed Team and Delaware Department of Natural Resources (DNREC) Emergency Response Team (ERT).

“All they did was wet it, so all they did was dilute it with water … into a safe condition. As far as any runoff, I believe they diverted it to a ditch in the area,” Miller said, “so there wasn’t really any environmental issue. It was only 2.5 gallons of water. It didn’t take much water to dilute it.”

Cleanup concluded around 5:15 a.m.

DNREC would not comment on the incident except regarding how the Emergency Response Team generally works.

Further assistance came from the Frankford and Roxana volunteer fire companies and Delaware State Fire School (providing specialized knowledge as needed).

“Every time we’ve had an incident at Mountaire, we’ve been fortunate that the incident hasn’t been large-scale,” Sliwa said. “They have a lot of their own emergency response teams that can … handle a lot of stuff on their own,” but Sliwa said Mountaire doesn’t hesitate to call 911 in serious incidents. “They’re really good about knowing what they are capable of handling or not handling. … They’re also really good about calling us if they need more manpower, more expertise.”

“We end up at Mountaire on a fairly regular basis, but it’s for the regular ambulance call,” Sliwa said. With hundreds of people per shift, it’s not uncommon to have cuts, bruises or chest pains, just like the rest of the general public. Off the top of his head, Sliwa said, SVFC also responded to a minor fire on the roof several years ago, plus a series of anhydrous ammonia chemical leaks.

Mountaire Farms would not return calls for comment on the incident, and the employee’s name has not been released.

Later that day, the Mountaire Farms Facebook page stated, “Mountaire Farms would like to express its sincere appreciation to the first responders who answered a call early this morning at our Selbyville plant. All of us at Mountaire are grateful for the dedication and professionalism of these men and women and thank them for their tireless service on behalf of our employees and the Selbyville community.”