Gas Leak At Plant Prompts Warning

By John Chambliss
The Ledger
john.chambliss@theledger.com

MULBERRY -- Toxic sulfuric gas released from a boiler during a leak at a Cargill Fertilizer plant Monday night led to the evacuation of about 250 people at a Mulberry baseball park and prompted emergency officials to notify about 300 residents to stay inside their homes, Mulberry fire officials said.

A child and Mulberry police officer Toby Cantrell were treated after complaining of sore throats and coughing, Mulberry Fire Chief Mitch Carmack said.

No other injuries to residents or employees at Cargill were reported.

The leak occurred about 7:30 p.m., and emergency officials said everything was under control within an hour. State Road 60 was closed for about 20 minutes. The residents who were advised to stay inside received a telephone call from an automated emergency warning system.

The incident occurred when a tube connected to a boiler broke, causing the plant to shut down and release gases into the air, said Ron Brownlow, public relations manager for Cargill.

"That tube inside a boiler sprung a leak," Brownlow said. "We don't know how it happened."

Brownlow said water inside the boiler leaked for about two minutes. When the tube broke, steam from the boiler pushed sulfuric trioxide and sulfuric dioxide from inside the boiler into the air.

Maintenance crews continued to clean the area into the morning. Brownlow estimated that the plant should be running again by this afternoon.

Carmack said a cloud of gas formed on the north side of Mulberry and blew toward children and adults at the Kid Ellis baseball field northwest of the plant, Carmack said.

"It was a large enough cloud so that it carried from the plant to the city," Carmack said.

Mulberry is about one-half mile from the entrance of the Cargill plant on Kid Ellis Road. The plant is on the north side of SR 60.

Polk County firefighters and members of the hazardous materials team, Mulberry firefighters and Mulberry police were called to respond to the leak, Carmack said.

John Chambliss can be reached at john.chambliss@theledger.com or 863-802-7539.