The Howard County fire marshal paid two visits to the Columbia facility of a New York-based masonry company last week and cited the company for having a blocked fire exit, and warned that the company needs to have a permit to pump hazardous and corrosive materials.
“We issued a Notice of Violation for the blocked exit, which was resolved within our required timeframe and confirmed upon our second visit,” Bradley Tanner, director of Community Outreach & Media Affairs for the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services, told MarylandReporter.com. “Notice of Violations are issued before citations (fines). The facility was advised to stop the transfer process, and referred to the Howard County Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits for permitting.”
A source familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity and provided evidence to support the allegations said the pumping continued after the fire marshal left. Employees in the Columbia facility also suffered burns to their skin, the source said.
“They have several 275-gallon tanks and they all have various ingredients of hazardous and corrosive chemicals, the source said. “Then the chemical operator runs a little pumping machine and it sucks the chemicals out of the larger tote and then he sprays it into smaller buckets. And then he goes through this long process of mixing the different chemicals so that it becomes the product.”
The source added: “The chemical is blowing into the air and there have been chemicals spilled on our floor in the building and then they use this powdery stuff mixture to throw on top of the chemical to neutralize it and then eventually they sweep it away.”
Jay Apperson, deputy director of the Office of Communications for the Maryland Department of the Environment told MarylandReporter.com that the department is “looking into this matter.”
The chemicals are highly flammable and if they are mishandled an explosion is possible.
After MarylandReporter.com contacted the company about the allegations, a spokesperson for Hohmann & Barnard said that the company has now stopped pumping at its Columbia facility and is investigating the claim.
“We take seriously the health of our environment. We are in communication with the Howard County Fire Marshal in regards to the concern that has been raised and have halted processes related to the claim at our Columbia facility. The stoppage will continue while we investigate this claim and ensure that our practices maintain the safety of our environment and our employees.”
The issue came to light last Thursday following a 911 call that was made after an employee at the company’s Oakland Mills Road facility who was handling the chemicals passed out, according to the source. It is unclear if the employee passed out because of exposure to the chemicals or because of heat exhaustion incurred by wearing heavy personal protective equipment.
Emergency personnel who responded to the 911 call inspected the facility and found that a fire exit that had been opened to ventilate the chemicals was being blocked by a pumping station, according to the source.
Officials tested the air quality inside the facility and determined it was safe. The test is said to have been done hours after the pumping had taken place and ventilation via fans had commenced, according to the source.
The following day the fire marshal visited the facility again and spoke with a safety consultant with Hohmann & Barnard’s parent company, MiTek. The consultant is said to have asked the fire marshal if short-term pumping could safely commence in order to complete outstanding sales orders and was told it could not until adequate safety equipment is installed. Such equipment would include an eyewash station, a sink in the pumping area, guard rails, a fume hood, and ductwork.
The installation of the pumping station at the Columbia facility followed the recent closure of a pumping station at a Hohmann & Barnard facility in New York. Employees at the Columbia facility are said to have not had the proper training necessary to safely pump the chemicals. The facility is licensed to store hazardous and corrosive chemicals.
MarylandReporter.com was provided with documentation that showed that the pumping station has since been moved and that plans were in place to continue pumping. The documentation corroborated the presence of the fans and the disabled emergency exit.