Valdosta Daily Times

August 17, 2013

Investigation continues into Perma-Fix fire

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Elevated pH levels delayed on-site investigative work Friday at an industrial plant facility where a fire and a series of explosions occurred earlier this week.

The elevated pH levels were detected in standing water inside the Perma-Fix of South Georgia facility where investigators believe the fire originated, said Sementha Mathews, City of Valdosta public information officer.

“Valdosta fire investigators, and the collaboration of other agencies on site such as the EPA, GEPD, OSHA, ATF, had to wait to inspect the area,” Mathews said. “When the water was pumped out by a private company hired by PermaFix, the area became safe for the investigators to get a closer look.”

Essentially, elevated pH levels can represent an increased acidic content in a substance.

Valdosta Fire Department investigators and arson investigators, Valdosta Police Department detectives, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are searching for a cause to the Wednesday incident of explosions and a fire which injured three Perma-Fix employees, called more than a hundred firefighters to the Azalea East Industrial Park, forced the evacuation of businesses within a mile radius of the site and sent a plume of smoke into the sky visible from miles away.

 Perma-Fix employees Charlie Curry and Stan Williams were still hospitalized  and stable Friday as a result of injuries suffered in the incident, according to reports. Shands in Gainesville offered conditions of critical for both men Thursday, but would not make public their conditions Friday. Perma-Fix employee Jamey Mitchell was treated locally and released for injuries Wednesday afternoon, according to reports.

As for a possible cause, Valdosta Fire Department Battalion Chief Ralph Catlett relayed through city officials that it was still under investigation Friday, and it may take a few days to release the results.

Though no foul play is expected in the case, investigators are looking into all possibilities as to a potential cause.

Meanwhile, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is on site. The federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division are investigating environmental concerns related to the explosion, fire and potential chemical run-off into nearby by Mud Swamp.

Perma-Fix of South Georgia processes and disposes of chemicals including arsenic, chloroform, methyl ethyl ketone, vinyl chloride, benzene, etc.

Located since 1974 in Valdosta, Perma-Fix had a much smaller chemical fire earlier this year. In February, Valdosta firefighters responded to a Perma-Fix fire using foam to keep chemicals from running off into Mud Swamp.

“We are impressed as the Valdosta community has been very supportive and we are touched by the kindness of the community,” Anne Smith, Perma-Fix Environmental Services communications director, stated Friday. “All we would ask is to please continue to keep our employees in your thoughts.”