Despite the endless recalls on everyone’s mind at General Motors (GM), the automaker will now also be dealing with the aftermath of a deadly explosion and chemical spill in Marion, Ind., that killed one contract worker and injured eight other employees at one of its many stamping plants. Although all of those injured have been released from the local hospital, employees are now facing the feelings of grief after losing both a co-worker and friend.
“Nothing like this ever happened over at this plant, ever, ever,” Daniel Graham, who lives nearby, told reporters from local television station Fox59. “It sounded like someone hitting on the side of a house or wall.”
According to GM, the first alarm call went out just before 2 p.m. The explosion and spill occurred on the northwest side of the plant, close to the water used for metal welding.
“The situation is contained. Everybody has been evacuated,” GM spokeswoman Stephanie Jentgen said during a telephone interview with the Associated Press.
Employees exposed to the dangerous substance were sprayed by emergency crews that arrived shortly after the incident. Of the nine people exposed to the chemicals, three employees declined treatment while five asked to to be taken to the Marion General Hospital with non-life threatening injuries.
Officials confirmed the worker killed was 48-year-old James (Jim) Gibson. Authorities say he had burns to the front of his body as well as trauma to the head. Gibson was employed by Quaker Chemical Corporation as a contract employee to GM, working at the stamping plant as a site manager.
The chemical that workers were exposed to was chlorine dioxide. The chemical’s tank continued spilling after the explosion, but crew members were able to contain the spill while firefighters sprayed those who came in contact with the dangerous chemical. When inhaled, chlorine dioxide may result in lung problems as well as irritate the skin and eyes.
“Should not be inhaled, shouldn’t be around it without a respirator when it’s outside of its container,” said Paul David, Marion Fire Chief.
Wayne Seybold, mayor of Marion, traveled to the scene to discuss what happened with GM officials. “This is heartbreaking for our community,” Seybold said.
Ms. Jentgen said she received conflicting reports when asking what chemicals were involved in the spill, but said GM will be doing its own testing throughout its investigation.
“What our investigation will do, it will determine exactly what chemicals were there,” Jentgen told Fox59. “The question is, how did this happen? Because we have not been able to get into the area where it occurred yet, the formal investigation has not started on that question.”
GM released the following statement in regards to the tragic accident:
“Quaker Chemical Corporation announced that, earlier today, there was a reported explosion at the GM Marion Metal Center in Marion, Indiana. A number of workers were injured, including one fatality. We have received confirmation that this fatality was an employee of Quaker Chemical Corporation.”
“Right now our heartfelt sympathies, thoughts and prayers are with this employee’s family and the other injured workers and their families,” commented Michael F. Barry, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President of Quaker Chemical. “The safety of our associates, and those who work with them, is of paramount importance to us. We understand that GM has initiated an investigation, and we will work with GM and government agencies to understand what occurred.”
An AP story published by the Huffington Post cited a WRTV-TV report saying the Indiana Department of Labor cited the GM plant for a very serious safety violation in December 2009. After the penalty of $845 was paid and the abatement requirement was completed, the plant has not since received any citations.
According to GM’s website, the plant employs about 1,600 workers and provides blanks, stampings and sheet metal assembly for vehicles to GM assembly plants across North America. Marion, Ind., is located about 60 miles northeast of Indianapolis.