2 workers burned at Resolute Forest plant in Catawba

By Anna Douglas and Jie Jenny ZouMay 15, 2014 

— Two workers suffered thermal burns Thursday afternoon at the Resolute Forest Products plant in Catawba, officials said.

The men were burned on various parts of their body by “boiler ash” or “wood ash” at about 3 p.m., said Mike Channell, York County’s emergency management coordinator.

The severity of the burns and the workers’ current medical condition and identities are unknown. Both were taken to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte for treatment.

The two longtime employees were conducting routine maintenance in the energy generator area of the mill, Resolute spokeswoman Debbie Johnston said. They were cleaning out built-up waste in a boiler when they were hit by hot ash.

The cause of the sudden ash release is still under investigation, Johnston said. The ash should not have been released, she said, so the workers were probably “caught off guard.”

The Lesslie Volunteer Fire Department and Piedmont Medical Center also responded to the incident. The ash release didn’t pose an immediate threat to other workers or to people outside the mill, Channell said.

Last year, one third-party contractor was killed and another was injured at the Resolute plant when chemicals leaked into the decommissioned tank on which they were performing routine maintenance. Samir Storey, 39, of Monroe, N.C., died at the scene.

In June 2012, a third-party contractor was injured when he was splashed in the face with “white liquor” – a chemical used to break down wood chips – while transferring it from a tanker truck to a holding area.

In May 2012, three Resolute employees were burned after a valve burst, spraying them with “white liquor.” Wayne Vinson suffered the worst injuries, including blindness and burns over two-thirds of his body. Mitch Altman was burned on 30 percent of his body, and Mark Harrington on 7 percent of his body. Altman and Vinson spent weeks at burn centers and underwent numerous surgeries, including skin grafts and other procedures.

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 also injured. That blast was reported as the worst accident in the plant’s then-40-year history.

Jonathan McFadden 803-329-4082, Anna Douglas 803-329-4068

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