A company official says multiple people at an Augusta plant had to be taken to the hospital following an ammonia leak. (WRDW-TV)
News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- Multiple people sent to the hospital Thursday morning after an ammonia leak have all been treated and released. It happened at FPL Food on New Savannah Road.
Fire trucks, a hazmat team and police cars filled the entrance for hours.
"We responded there along with the fire department. We arrived on scene and were instructed that we had a potential of seven to eight patients," said Matt Paynter, director of operations for Gold Cross EMS.
In total, nine patients were transported -- one to Georgia Regents Medical Center and eight to University Hospital -- but on the way there, the ambulances noticed a problem.
"The first time we realized it was [when] one of the patients started complaining of some symptoms and that kinda triggered us off that maybe they hadn't been properly decontaminated," Paynter said.
When they arrived at University Hospital, the hospital set up its own decontamination area outside the ER. They decontaminated three patients before they went inside, but Gold Cross EMS says the patients never should have made it that far because it puts their workers at risk.
"In our ambulances, there are very tight quarters," Paynter said. "Ventilation's kind of limited in the back of an ambulance, so it appears that they were exposed to the chemicals that the patients were as well. We did have one crew have some symptoms and they got medical treatment."
The question being asked is when they got to the doors of the ambulances had the patients been properly decontaminated?
"Using the language of properly decontaminated is not a realistic word when we are saying that we will decontaminate you to the best that we can," said Fire Chief Chris James.
Chief James says a "gross decontamination" process did take place at FPL Food.
"Meaning that we took off their outer clothing, their outer uniform, we took that stuff off of them," James said. "That stuff has been bagged up and then from there they were transported."
He added that they did notify hospitals ahead of time about the possibility of contamination. Luckily, no one was seriously injured in this leak.
Gold Cross EMS did decontaminate all of its workers and all four ambulances, taking those ambulances out of service for around an hour.
James says he will look into it, but from everything he knows, their protocol was followed Thursday morning. They did the gross decontamination and sent them on, but Gold Cross says that wasn't enough because their workers were exposed.
Chief James says none of his crews who treated the same patients have shown any symptoms.