Better safe than sorry

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Cyanide scare ‘a bit overblown’

By Cindy DiFazio

Staff writer/photographer

Emergency responders played it safe last week as they responded to a call at Hussey Copper in Eminence.

A 911 call received by Shelby County dispatchers last Thursday night at 10 p.m. was placed from a cell phone, but operators quickly realized it came from inside the Hussey Copper facility in Eminence.

Henry County Emergency Management Director Bruce Owens said the call was directed to Shelby County because it was the closest 911 to the cell phone’s location.

Emergency responders also included the Eminence Fire Department and Henry County EMS.

Regional Response Manager John Bastin said there were a lot of responders because the plant is located on the county line. “It was a bit overblown,” he said, “but when it’s cyanide you don’t mess with it.”

There was a hazardous materials concern because Hussey Copper uses cyanide pellets immersed in hot water to clean copper.

Owens said when the initial call came in, dispatch understood there to be 32 people down. In reality, there simply were 32 employees in the building. Gary Lucas and Steve Sparrow of the Eminence Fire Department soon got the word out there were only two or three affected.

Owens said the workers reported smelling an ammonia-like odor and became dizzy, but there was no cyanide gas.

Shelby County Emergency Management director Charlie Frazie said the three Hussey employees were checked out by emergency medical personnel and refused to be transported to an area hospital. “They had dizziness and headaches,” he said, “so we wanted to check them out as thoroughly as possible.”

The plant reopened a few hours later after a cyanide patch showed no problem.

“We did follow up with a hazardous materials air sampling,” Bastin said, “and everything checked out fine.”

Owens speculated that closed doors in the area might have contributed to workers’ distress. “This is conjecture,” he said, “but in order to keep air moving they have to keep some doors open.”

This was the second incident of this type this year at Hussey Copper. Calls to plant manager Bill Viazanko were not returned by press time.


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