Sirens blared from Molnlycke Health Care’s manufacturing facility off of Old Ferry Road in Wiscasset on Sept. 23. Employees evacuated, the switchboard at Lincoln County 9-1-1 lit up, and a multi-agency response to a report of a chemical spill ensued.
The exercise was the first live-action drill of Molnlycke Health Care’s Integrated Contingency Plan, a required plan for facilities with material deemed toxic by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Wiscasset Police Department, Wiscasset Fire Department, Wiscasset Ambulance Service, Lincoln County Emergency Management Agency, and LincolnHealth-Miles Campus each played a part in the drill, which was six months in the making.
Each year, Molnlycke’s facility in Wiscasset conducts a table-top exercise to test their Integrated Contingency Plan, which includes a spill prevention control and cleanup plan, a plan for handling hazardous waste, and a facility emergency response plan.
Molnlycke’s health and safety team at the Wiscasset facility, however, pushed for a full-scale live-action drill to truly test the plan.
“It didn’t make sense to do it in a conference room with just the leadership (of the facility),” health and safety coordinator Marcia Norris said. “We needed to involve the employees and really practice the plan.”
Molnlycke Health Care’s manufacturing plant in Wiscasset, formerly Rynel Inc., produces the raw material for a variety of wound care dressings that accelerate recovery time for open wounds and reduce the development of pressure sores for patients confined to a bed for extended periods.
The health care product, however, is manufactured through use of Toluene diisocyanate, or TDI, a toxic chemical and irritant to mucous membranes if individuals are exposed to it in a vapor or liquid form. The facility contains approximately 10,000 pounds of TDI, Norris said.
Molnlycke Health Care, a global corporation headquartered in Sweden, is experimenting with other less-toxic chemical compounds to hopefully replace TDI in its manufacturing process, Norris said. While the chemical is still in use, however, the company is taking every precaution to ensure the chemical is beneficial and not detrimental to health.
Legally, the facility is required to report a spill of 12 gallons or more, Norris said. Molnlycke Health Care is, “extra cautious,” and will initiate a response if there is even a one-gallon spill, Norris said.
There has never been a TDI spill at Molnlycke Health Care’s manufacturing plant in Wiscasset, Norris said. On Sept. 23, employees and emergency responders got a taste of what to expect if there ever is one.
At approximately 4 p.m., in the manufacturing portion of the building, a 55 gallon container filled with water was tipped over and the alarm sounded. The building was evacuated and the emergency response began.
The employee who saw the leak immediately accessed the spill kit, before evacuating, and laid down absorbents at a safe distance from the leak to prevent it from flowing outside.
“We threw some wrenches in,” Norris said. Five employees played the part of the injured – two suffered from TDI exposure, one exhibited symptoms of a heart attack, one experienced respiratory issues, and one suffered from a head wound and possible concussion.
Not all of the injured employees exited the building. Supervisors immediately recognized the missing in their ranks and they were retrieved. Evacuated employees were relegated to a specified assembly area.
Wiscasset Police Chief Troy Cline cordoned off traffic to ensure only emergency vehicles had access to the building. The Lincoln County Emergency Management Agency simulated alerting and communicating with outside agencies, such as the Wiscasset Waste Water Treatment Plant, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Maine Emergency Management Agency, and others, about the spill and provided support to Molnlycke’s incident command structure.
The Wiscasset Fire Department responded with a crew of five firefighters to contain any potential fire that simultaneously broke out and help decontaminate employees exposed to TDI. The Wiscasset Ambulance Service responded with two ambulances to treat the injured at the scene and transport them to LincolnHealth-Miles Campus for further treatment.
Evaluators from the Department of Environmental Protection, the Lincoln County Emergency Management Agency, the Newcastle Fire Department, and Molnlycke looked on as the facility’s Integrated Contingency Plan was put into play.
Mike Rioux, a senior regulatory specialist with St. Germain Collins, an environmental consulting firm, helped develop Molnlycke’s contingency plan and served as an evaluator for the drill. “When we go through the real drill there’s a lot that comes out that’s not seen or anticipated,” Rioux said.
“We have the plan but we won’t know what’s not quite right until we put it into practice,” he said. Through the drill, many unforeseen and unanticipated factors that both complicated and improved the response to a TDI spill were revealed.
According to Norris, there was an unknown slope in the floor in the portion of the building that contains TDI, which directed the spill away from the doors to the outside, reducing the risk of outdoor contamination.
The quick response of employees in evacuating the building and the quick identification of the missing were positive aspects of the drill, evaluators said in the debrief that followed.
The assembly of evacuated employees in a designated area was also named as a positive. However, the need to establish a separate designated area for incident commanders was identified.
The refusal of employees to release information to a reporter that was wandering around the scene was considered a positive. The reporter was referred to the supervisor, who in turn knew to refer the reporter to the public information official designated to provide updates to the media.
In the mock drill, a fire engine blocked the road and prevented other emergency vehicles from accessing the scene and ambulances from accessing the wounded. The need to keep the roadways clear and the importance of the logistics of emergency vehicles in the parking area was identified.
Every toxic chemical has a safety data sheet, which outlines the steps fire and medical personnel should take to safely treat exposure to it and contain a spill. The need for emergency responders and medical personnel to become more familiar with the data sheet for TDI and quickly access the part of the document relevant to their role in the emergency response was identified.
Due to the drill, staff at Molnlycke truly understood what to expect for an emergency response time. According to Norris, the Wiscasset facility is now taking steps to ensure employees exposed to TDI can be decontaminated on-site immediately.
There are showers in areas of the building that cannot be reached by TDI even in a worst-case scenario spill, Norris said.
The Integrated Contingency Plan will be updated and staff will be trained to get rid of exposed clothes, wash off, and change into scrubs available in the shower room, as a first step in the decontamination process, Norris said.
“It was a learning experience for all of us,” Norris said. “Having a good relationship with emergency responders really makes a difference. I think it went really well.”
The emergency responders that participated agreed. “This is not something we deal with everyday,” Wiscasset Fire Chief T.J. Merry said. “I hope (a TDI spill) never happens but it is a likely scenario. It was a good exercise of us.”
Merry said he would like to see a live-action drill occur annually and intends to incorporate the lessons learned into the fire department’s routine training.
“Anytime we get to do something like this it’s a real bonus,” Hartung said. “They get to know us and we get to know them. It’s beneficial for the entire community.”