DOE investigating ether accident at Fernald


BY MIKE GALLAGHER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

CROSBY TOWNSHIP - The U.S. Department of Energy is investigating why an employee of the company managing Fernald opened a canister of ether in a small building, causing six people to be affected by fumes.

The incident occurred about 2 p.m. Thursday inside a hazardous-waste storage facility in the western section of the 1,050-acre former uranium-processing plant.

The man who opened the container and the six people who were affected by the ether fumes are employees of Fernald Environmental Restoration Management Co. (FERMCO).

The six workers were treated at an on-site medical facility. The employees, whoses names were not released, were back at work Friday, said Gary Stegner, the Energy Department's Fernald spokesman.

''The incident is now under investigation by our (Energy Department's) safety and assessment team,'' Mr. Stegner said Friday.

FERMCO spokesman Rick Maslin said Friday a separate investigation of the incident was under way by company officials.

The incident occurred as the six FERMCO employees inside the 24-by-12-foot building with an 8-foot ceiling were loading recyclable materials - including used fluorescent lights - onto a truck for shipment off-site, according to Energy Department (DOE) records.

At the other end of the facility were three, 20-gallon plastic containers filled with ether. The canisters, which according to FERMCO records contained ether, were stored there while company officials tried to determine whether local universities might want the chemicals. The canisters had been stored there at least a week.

While the workers were loading the truck, Bruce E. Davis, a FERMCO quality assurance supervisor, entered the storage facility and took a cap off one of the ether canisters, according to Energy Department records.

The ether was released, and the fumes quickly affected the workers at the other end of the storage facility, the records revealed.

DOE rules say it is a violation for any employee to open a container at the site without first determining what is in it and then taking proper precautions.

Mr. Davis could not be reached for comment Friday.

Published June 1, 1996.