Widow of worker killed in SC plant explosion files suit
Rachael Myers Lowe
Alton Ray Zeigler, a retired master sergeant in the U.S. Army, died after being scalded by the superheated contents of a pipeline pump that he and two co-workers were attempting to repair Dec. 6, 2016.
The widow of the 63-year-old Richland County man filed a wrongful death suit in federal court against Eastman Chemical Co., a Mount Pleasant law firm handling her suit announced on Wednesday.
The former Carolina Eastman plant where the fatal accident occurred is located on the Congaree River near Sandy Run, a few miles northeast of Gaston. It employs 430 people and makes specialty plastics, site manager Mark Leaphardt said in December.
Leaphardt said at the time that the accident occurred during routine annual maintenance on a pipeline that carries polymer products but was not in operation at the time of the explosion.
The suit alleges that a fire during leak repair efforts on the pipeline several days earlier had “altered the chemical makeup of the pipeline’s contents and increased pressure within the pipeline by converting some liquid to gas.”
When Zeigler’s team loosened the pump bolts, the built-up pressure blew the nearly 300-pound pump nine feet into the air and spewed some 500 gallons of pipeline contents, heated to 300 degrees, over the work area, the suit alleges.
Zeigler died “a ghastly death,” the suit states.
The pump removal job assigned to Zeigler and his two co-workers was “a bomb waiting to happen,” said state Rep. Marlon Kimpson, attorney for the Zeigler family.
The suit contends that Carolina Eastman knew or should have known about the danger but failed to warn Zeigler of the “risks associated with the compromised pipeline.”
A person died and two others were injured in an industrial accident at DAK Americas in Calhoun County, Coroner Donnie Porth said Tuesday.
The person killed in the accident has been identified as 63-year-old Alton Zeigler of Columbia.
The two people who were injured were transported to Palmetto Health Richland hospital.
Calhoun County Administrator Lee Prickett said the news of the accident was a shock.
“While we wait for further details from the company, we want to offer our prayers and condolences to the families of the victims,” Prickett said in a prepared statement. “When one part of our Calhoun County family is hurting, we all hurt together.”
Prickett expressed his thankfulness to employees who were on the scene, including Calhoun County EMS, the Sandy Run Fire Department, Porth and the emergency officials from neighboring Lexington County.
“We will continue to stand with DAK Americas and provide whatever assistance they need to move forward from a horrible day,” Prickett said.
Calhoun County Development Commission Executive Director Pat Black echoed Prickett, noting all the county including “our industrial and economic development community grieves today.
“For now our thoughts prayers and support are with those directly affected by the incident today and we offer consolement to each and every individual and family who must bear this burden, particularly during this season of the year.”
Calhoun County Emergency Manager David Chojnacki said the department got the call about the incident at 12:14 p.m.
CALHOUN COUNTY, SC (WIS) -
An industrial accident at DAK Americas in Calhoun County has claimed the life of one person Tuesday afternoon, according to the county coroner.
Calhoun County Coroner Donnie Porth identified the victim as 63-year old Alton Zeigler.
"Certainly, this is a shocker to all these employees, and again, our thoughts and prayers are with the employees that have been impacted," said DAK Americas Public Affairs Director Ricky Lane.
Coroner Donnie Porth said two others have been taken to Palmetto Health Richland Hospital in Columbia with chemical burns, but he believes they've since been transported to the Augusta Burn Center.
Porth said the incident happened around noon and was confined to one area of the plant.
"It was involving a line that produces polymer, which is the main product that we produce here, which goes into carbonated soft drink and water bottle containers," said Lane.
Porth said there was not an explosion at the plant.
"Something malfunctioned and the polymer escaped from its container and it spilled over three victims," said Porth.
According to the Associated Press, Site Manager Mark Leonhardt told reporters the three workers were doing annual maintenance on a pump that sends the solution used for the plastic through pipes when the accident occurred.
DAK Americas is located in the former Carolina Eastman plant, which is between Interstate 26 and the Congaree River near Old State Road.
The company also produces PET resins and polyester staple fibers, according to its website.
The investigation into the incident by the Calhoun County Coroner's Office is ongoing. Meanwhile, the company has grief counselors on site as it copes with what it calls a rare tragedy.
"Extremely rare," said Lane. "This is the worst incident we've ever had. We've been in operation since 2001 and this particular facility since 2007."
The man killed in Tuesday’s industrial accident at DAK Americas died from asphyxia with a secondary cause being the inhalation of a foreign substance, Calhoun County Coroner Donnie Porth said Wednesday.
Alton Zeigler, 63, of Columbia died Tuesday as he and other members of his maintenance crew were working on a large industrial pump used for transferring liquid, molten polymers. The polymer line was down for annual maintenance.
Porth said the polymers escaped and came in contact with the three victims.
Two others were injured and were transferred to the Augusta Burn Center with serious injuries. Their conditions are unknown.
DAK Americas spokesman Ricky Lane said the facility has an excellent safety rating.
"This is a significantly tragic accident and has really caught this industry off guard. We have never had anything of this nature,” he said.
Lane said DAK's thoughts and prayers are with the employees impacted by the incident.
"We have an excellent workforce here," he said. “These employees are like family members."
Zeigler had worked at the plant for more than 20 years, Lane said.
The polymer line involved in the accident had been down for maintenance. Lane said the line will continue to remain down while the rest of the plant will continue to operate.
DAK purchased Carolina Eastman’s polyethylene terephthalate-manufacturing operations in Calhoun County in 2011. PET is a plastic used in drink bottles and other packaging.
Lane said the operation of the plant and the polymer lines is “highly technical.”
"We produce plastic materials for consumer goods," Lane said. "We don't make any products on-site, but we provide the raw materials."
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control was informed that the incident occurred. The release was contained within a building and there was no environmental impact.
The S.C. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the incident. Investigations generally take about eight weeks to complete.
Lane said DAK Americas is also investigating the incident.
"We hope to have further information available in the future," Lane said.