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Wetzel Blast Was No Drill

Five workers with acid injuries test facilityís capabilities
POSTED: May 21, 2009 in  The Intelligencer - Wheeling News-Register

Hazardous materials emergency personnel from Wetzel County and area fire departments set up a decontamination tent outside the Wetzel County Hospital on Wednesday. Five workers on an oil and gas drilling rig were injured when a lithium/thionyl chloride battery exploded at their drilling site off U.S. 250. The injured workers were decontaminated and treated in the hospitalís emergency room.




NEW MARTINSVILLE - Wetzel County Hospital personnel had prepared for hazardous materials situations, and what doctors and emergency workers handled Wednesday morning was no practice session.

An explosion Wednesday at a Wetzel County energy company injured five men and forced a lockdown of the industrial facility, according to Sheriff James Hoskins and hospital Chief Executive Officer George Couch.

Liquid and aerosol forms of battery acid made contact with five employees of Chesapeake Energy's Procko Well on Wednesday morning in the community of Silver Hill, Hoskins said. The men were transported to Wetzel County Hospital, where they were decontaminated and subsequently treated.

Couch said Wednesday afternoon that none of the men sustained life-threatening injuries. He said they suffered skin and respiratory inflammation from contact with lithium thionyl chloride after an industrial battery exploded.

Couch said he expected several of the men to be released Wednesday evening, noting the others would remain at the hospital no longer than 48 hours. He added that the situation shows why rural hospitals are needed, as the condition of the victims could have worsened had they been transported a greater distance.

Couch said Wetzel County Hospital was advised the men were being transported there 15 minutes prior to their arrival. He said the hospital's hazardous materials response team assembled, and the situation was handled just as the team had practiced.

"We run regular drills with it, and it worked perfectly," Couch said. "The patients were very cooperative. In essence, we had five patients and a doctor attending each of them. We were able to set up the hazmat team and tent, and we were able to stabilize them, decontaminate them and move them into the hospital for evaluation. It went well, and I'm really tickled with how it was handled."

Hoskins said employees at Chesapeake Energy's Procko Well were sent home and the site was locked down. He said he did not know when it would re-open. Weavertown Environmental of Carnegie, Pa., responded Wednesday to decontaminate the site. Wetzel County Emergency Management Director Ed Sapp said the site was secure Wednesday afternoon.

Hoskins said it appears the situation was an unfortunate accident.

"There will be an investigation," he said.