Waste sulfur blamed for Lehigh accident Chemical was in oil in truck left open COUNTYWIDE

November 26, 1992|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

An accident that sent six Lehigh Portland Cement employees to Carroll County General Hospital on Nov. 5 was caused by trace amounts of sulfur compounds in a waste oil truck that was left open at the Union Bridge plant, company officials said yesterday.

The company released that finding after conducting what officials described as a preliminary investigation into the accident.

The report said the substances -- hydrogen sulfide and mercaptans -- are known to cause dizziness, breathing and eye problems and nausea, the symptoms shown by the employees that morning.

"We are taking steps to ensure we don't get that type of oil again," said plant manager David Roush. "If we do get that type again, we are also making sure we catch it before it gets in the general area and affects people."

The waste oil, which Lehigh said came from a Mobil Oil lubrication plant in Paulsboro, N.J., contained only a little of the sulfur compounds. But weather conditions that day caused the substances to be more concentrated, Mr. Roush said.

Cemtech, a Chicago company that matches generators and users of waste products for fuel, distributes the waste oil used to generate about 6 percent to 7 percent of the Lehigh plant's power, Mr. Roush said.

Cemtech is not ready to comment on the incident, said Brian McHenry, vice president of environmental and regulatory affairs.

"We are conducting an investigation into the workers' illness with a third-party consultant," he said. "It is ongoing, and we expect a conclusion in the near future."

Lehigh officials said they will take the following actions to prevent another accident:

* Suspend shipments of this particular waste oil from Mobil Oil, pending results of a final study into the cause of the accident.

"That's just lawyer talk," said Mr. Roush. "This is the first time we got oil from that source, and we will never get oil from that source again."

* Modify their review procedure for prospective waste oil suppliers to include an analysis of hydrogen sulfide and mercaptans so that safe levels of those compounds are not exceeded.

* Purchase additional testing equipment that is capable of detecting low levels of hydrogen sulfide and mercaptans.

* Keep the hatches of the waste oil trucks closed at all times, except as needed for sampling and unloading.

Leaving the hatch open "has been the normal practice," Mr. Roush said.

But he said that employee error at the Union Bridge plant was not a factor in the accident.

* Re-examine all existing waste oil sources for the possible presence of chemical compounds that could be present in hazardous amounts.

However, Mr. Roush said that he was unsure when they could accomplish the preventive measures.

"We want to get on this as quickly as we can," he said. "But I don't think we have a fair sense of how long it will take."

Mr. McHenry of Cemtech said that three tankers were delivered to the Lehigh plant Nov. 5, but he would not confirm that one of the tankers had come from Mobil Oil.

"I feel it would be impractical to name names at this time," he said.

Although Cemtech does find users for the waste fuel products, the company that buys them makes the final purchase decision.

Companies that generate the waste fuel send analyses of what is in the products, and consumers send Cemtech a profile of what they can use.

"It is up to the generator to say what is in their fuel," Mr. McHenry said. "[Material Safety Data Sheets] are sent to the potential reclamation facility for approval."

But Mr. Roush said the sulfur compounds his company found in the waste oil were not listed on the data sheets Lehigh received from Mobil Oil, so his company needs its new regulations.

"I don't foresee [these regulations] having a substantial impact on our operations," he said.

"We just have to do some more checking and analysis before accepting a new source or load."

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