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Chemical worker is badly hurt
Man knocked unconscious when door blew off overpressurized kiln at Allentown mercury reclamation job.
03/15/00 By RON DEVLIN Of The Morning Call
An industrial chemical worker was severely injured Tuesday afternoon when the door blew off an overpressured kiln at Advanced Environmental Recycling Inc. in Allentown.
Issac Irizarry, 26, of 611 N. Sixth St., Allentown, was knocked unconscious by the flying door in a section of the plant that reclaims mercury, said Deputy Fire Chief Dan Sell.
"He was unresponsive," said Sell. "He apparently suffered head injuries."
Irizarry was listed in guarded condition at Lehigh Valley Hospital, Salisbury Township.
Two unidentified co-workers, wearing protective clothing and respirators, carried Irizarry from the plant, Sell said.
"Mercury is very poisonous," the deputy chief said. "It's good they had the sense to put on protective clothing and get him outside."
Mercury can cause nerve damage, mental retardation in youngsters and fetal damage in pregnant women.
The incident, which occurred at 3:19 p.m., might have released a small amount of mercury inside the plant, Sell said.
Firefighters found no evidence of a mercury emission into the atmosphere when they arrived, Sell said. Even if a small amount had been released before their arrival, Sell said, it dissipated quickly because of the brisk wind.
As a precaution, Allentown Haz-Mat Unit firefighters decontaminated Irizarry in an enclosed plastic tent set up in the parking lot of a neighboring plant, Penn Foam.
Workers at Penn Foam, about 100 yards from the recycling plant, heard a "loud bang." Penn Foam, however, was not evacuated.
At Allentown Environmental Recycling, about 35 workers were evacuated and watched intensely as firefighters and ambulance personnel worked on their fallen co-worker. None would comment on the incident.
Advanced Environmental Recycling, a 32,000-square-foot cinder block plant, is at 26th Street and Mitchell Avenue, just east of the Interstate 78 overpass of Emmaus Avenue.
It remained closed Tuesday night pending an inspection by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
It is not known when the plant will reopen.
The extent of damage to the plant could not be determined, though Sell said there was no explosion, as such. The kiln "overpressured," he said, and blew off the door.
He did not know the cause.
Hazardous material was being recycled at the time of the accident, though Sell did not know what it was.
The company reclaims mercury from a variety of materials, including fluorescent tubes, electronic switches and other hazardous materials.
Advanced Environmental Recycling had no comment on the incident. Phone calls to the plant were electronically switched to Info Trac in Orlando, Fla.
An Info Trac spokesman, who identified himself only as Randy, said Advanced Environmental Recycling had no statement.
Info Trac, he said, serves corporate clients, providing information about leaks, fires and explosions.
Officials at the scene said Robert M. Blanchfield is the company's president. He could not be reached.
Advanced Environmental Recycling began as an incubator operation at Allentown's Bridgeworks Enterprise Center in 1991. By 1996, it employed 50 people and did about $6 million in business.
The company had a plant in Flanders, N.J., but officials at the scene said it had been closed and operations were consolidated in Allentown.
The plant is a hazardous waste drop-off point for Lehigh County. In 1996, Lehigh County became only the second county in Pennsylvania to set up a drop-off site for toxic, flammable and corrosive chemicals and compounds found in the home. ) 2000 THE MORNING CALL Inc. http://www.mcall.com/html/news/allentwn/b12c.htm
-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), March 15, 2000
Oh my gracious me! This is terrible.
Please keep us posted on this horrible Y2K tragedy.
-- (Dee361Degree@aol.com), March 15, 2000.