A midday chemical spill closed Hosier Street on Thursday, July 12, at Mountaire’s Selbyville poultry processing plant.
The hazmat incident occurred at the main building at 55 Hosier Street, right where live-haul trucks back into the plant, which sometimes briefly stops traffic.
Mountaire uses peracetic acid as a disinfectant. It’s related to peroxide, a compound of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
“Mountaire received it in diluted form, [which] basically turns into a very strong vinegar, and that’s what the smell was, of a strong vinegar on the scene,” said Selbyville Volunteer Fire Company Chief Matt Sliwa. “We’re lucky that they get a diluted version” because at full strength, peracetic acid is lethal between one teaspoon to one ounce per 150-pound person (according to the EPA).
Mountaire hired an outside cleanup agency immediately. Crews set up “dams” to prevent liquid from flowing into street drains. Then they soaked the chemicals up in a dry, ashy substance, like “industrial kind of kitty litter,” Sliwa said. Finally, they swept up the material using street sweepers and/or vacuums, Sliwa said.
Fortunately, there were “fairly minor injuries. No one actually had any skin exposure to it. It was breathing issues or inhalation,” Sliwa said.
Of the six injured, two went to Atlantic General Hospital, two to Beebe Healthcare, and two refused to be transported, said Collins.
“We turned it back over to Mountaire once we were confident they had a plan, so we left it in DNREC and Mountaire’s hands,” around roughly 1:45 p.m., Sliwa said. “There was no danger to the environment or the public. They got it contained very quickly and they were quick with the cleanup efforts on it.”
Under the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), the Division of Waste and Hazardous Substances also sends emergency response crews to such spills, like in February of 2017. Although considered a minor chemical explosion between two cleaning chemicals, it caused serious burns to the victim on Mountaire’s cleaning crew.
In Selbyville, Mountaire also had a roof fire in April when an electrical transformer failed.
Mountaire representatives were not available for comment on Thursday evening.
“Their safety response team did a great job to get it contained,” said Selbyville Police Chief W. Scott Collins.
Several volunteer fire companies responded, plus Sussex County paramedics. Although Mountaire could have relied more heavily on the volunteer fire company for cleanup, Sliwa was impressed that the company asked the industrial cleanup agency to report immediately.
The road was cleared by about 2:15 p.m., Collins said. “They ended up shutting the plant down and letting their morning shift go home.”
To report environmental spills, trash dumping, violations of environmental laws and other issues to DNREC, call (302) 739-9401 or the 24-hour, toll-free complaint line at 1-800-662-8802.
By Laura Walter