CATAWBA — A North Carolina man died Tuesday and another man was injured in an accident at the former AbitibiBowater plant, now called Resolute Forest Products, in southeastern York County.
By Tuesday evening, officials had not released what caused the accident or how Samir Storey, a 39-year-old Monroe, N.C., man, died around 1:30 a.m. while working in a fume tank, said York County Coroner Sabrina Gast.
An autopsy was completed Tuesday afternoon, but Gast said additional toxicology tests were pending.
Gast said Storeys body was not burned and that officials are not ruling out the possibility of a chemical incident.
There was not an explosion or anything like that, she said. Its a work-related incident.
Storey was one of three contract employees with Tradesmen International, a construction labor support company with offices in Charlotte, cleaning a 10-foot by 40-foot tank in the plants power generation area during a scheduled maintenance outage when he was killed, said Debbie Johnston, spokeswoman for Resolute Forest Products.
One of the workers suffered a minor irritation and was taken by EMS to Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill, Johnston said. His name was not available. The third contractor was examined by on-site medical personnel but released.
Officials speculate that while three employees were working on the tank, some kind of chemical might have leaked in, said Cotton Howell, director of York County Emergency Management. No other injuries were reported but it was still unclear Tuesday evening what type of chemical may have been involved in the accident.
All three workers wore protective equipment, Johnston said, and were properly trained to clean the tank, which collects odorless chemical fumes from the mill's power generating area instead of releasing them into the atmosphere.
Those fumes are then burned in the mill's power boilers. The tank is cleaned every nine months, Johnston said.
The plant, which employs more than 600 people, was fully operational Tuesday, and no evacuations were ordered, Howell said.
Officials with the state Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration, as well as York County Emergency Management and the plant's own accident investigation team, will probe the incident.
The investigation is still in its infancy," Howell said.
OSHA investigations can take anywhere from six to eight weeks, said Lesia Kudelka, OSHA spokeswoman.
Storey started working with Tradesmen International in 2011, said Pete Barger, the company's area manager.
We were working with a client on that job site," Barger said. It's a tragic situation; we're doing our best first and foremost to support his family from this point as we go through the investigation.
Barger said company officials will spend the next couple of days gathering details. He wasn't able to give information on the injured worker, but he did say that multiple employees were working at the site in "that sector of the plant."
"The details at this point are very limited," he said. "This kind of situation again is tragic and incredibly uncommon for our company."
In May 2012, a suction valve malfunctioned and ruptured, spraying a mixture of sodium hydroxide, a cooking chemical dubbed "white liquor," on four employees in the plant's pulping area.
The workers, all of whom were wearing safety equipment that included hard hats, safety glasses, uniforms and steel-toed boots, were covered head to toe with the chemical, according to a report issued by the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration and obtained by The Herald on Tuesday.
The employees suffered second- and third-degree burns on their bodies, including in their eyes, and were treated at hospitals and burn centers in North Carolina and Georgia.
After a lengthy investigation, OSHA determined that Resolute Forest Products didnt violate state safety policies, Kudelka said, and no citations were issued.
In June 2012, a third-party contractor was injured when he was splashed in the face with white liquor while transferring the chemical from a tanker truck to a holding area. He was taken to an on-site shower and washed down before he was taken by ambulance to an area hospital.
Further information about that incident wasn't available Tuesday from OSHA.
In 2000, an explosion at the plant killed two contract welders who were connecting pipes to an outdoor tank when it exploded. Several other workers were injured. That blast was reported as the worst accident in the plants then-40-year history.
After a series of inspections early last year, OSHA issued four violations against Resolute Forest Products for: failure to test breathing equipment used by 40 emergency response team members; failure to install a carbon monoxide alarm for a compressor; failure to train two employees for confined-space certification; and failure to review and update the plants Exposure Control Plan.
Those violations were listed as serious, meaning they had the potential to cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm, according to OSHA regulations. Resolute Forest Products faced $6,125 in fines for the violations if they were not corrected.
Resolute had until June 5, 2012, to contest the violations.
Officials vacated the violation for the carbon monoxide alarm for a compressor meant to fill a self-contained breathing apparatus, Kudelka said, when plant officials resolved the issue during the inspection.
Kudelka said Resolute came into compliance with the other three violations.