A Columbia man was killed and two others injured in an accident at a Calhoun County chemical plant Tuesday, officials said.
The accident happened around 12:15 p.m. at the DAK Americas plant on K Avenue, according to Calhoun County Coroner Donnie Porth. The man killed in the accident was identified as Alton Zeigler, 63, of Columbia. An autopsy is pending.
Site manager Mark Leonhardt said three employees were performing annual maintenance on a polymer pump. He couldn’t provide specifics on the incident or confirm if an explosion occurred.
“We have a very good safety record,” Leonhardt said. “This is just a very, very unfortunate incident. We’re all just heartbroken by this.”
Officials said the other two employees were transported to Palmetto Health Richland hospital in Columbia. Grief counselors were on hand at the plant Tuesday afternoon. Identification of the two was being delayed until families were notified.
“We are doing everything we can for the families,” Leonhardt said. “Our hearts and prayers go out to everyone. This is a very difficult situation for everybody.”
Leonhardt said the polymer line that the crew was working on was not in operation at the time, and that the rest of the plant was operating normally Tuesday afternoon.
The former Carolina Eastman plant is located on the Congaree River near Sandy Run a few miles northeast of Gaston and makes specialty plastics. It employs 430 people, according to Leonhardt.
Calhoun County EMS, Emergency Management and the Sandy Run Volunteer Fire Department responded, according to David Chojnacki of Calhoun County Emergency Management. Hazmat crews were not called, he said, and there was no threat to the surrounding areas.
The Times & Democrat of Orangeburg reported in 2011 that DAK Americas LLC purchased the plant, which makes plastic commonly used in soda bottles, from Eastman Chemical Co. for $600 million. Before the purchase, the company was the county’s largest taxpayer and paid $4 million in 2009, the newspaper reported.
Officials with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control said the accident did not appear to be related to a new natural gas pipeline that has been installed near the facility, said Congaree Riverkeeper Bill Stangler, who spoke with DHEC’s Orangeburg office Tuesday afternoon.
The Dominion Carolina Gas Transmission pipeline was to run 28 miles from near the DAK plant along the Congaree River, through eastern Richland County to the Wateree River. It was recently completed, Stangler and a Dominion Carolina spokeswoman said.
In an email to The State, DHEC spokeswoman Cassandra Harris said a release that occurred was contained inside a plant building and had “no environmental impact.” Stangler said he had been told by DHEC that the explosion did not create a pollution stream that threatens the Congaree River.
Staff Writer Sammy Fretwell contributed.