BY KEN LITTLE
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) is investigating an Oct. 12 fire that did "significant structural damage" to a section of a building at Scepter Inc.'s Greene County plant.
The facility is located at 1230 Pottertown Road, in the Midway area.
There were no injuries, but equipment in a "baghouse" area of the aluminum recycling plant where the fire started is still inoperable, Plant Manager Nathan Sutherlen said Friday.
"We did have a fire in a baghouse, and (the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation) has been notified and is aware of the incident," Sutherlen said.
"To the best of our knowledge, it was not detrimental to the environment."
The baghouse "is essentially a piece of equipment that is used to capture particulate" and is basically a dust collector, Sutherlen said.
The fire started shortly after 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 12, and was quickly contained, Sutherlen said.
"No outside services were called," he said.
The Midway Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched to the scene but left shortly after arriving, fire Chief Anthony Ball said.
"They told us everything was under control, and so we cleared," Ball said.
INTERNAL, TDEC INVESTIGATIONS
An internal investigation of the fire continues, Sutherlen stated.
"We have some understanding of the incident right now," he said, but he did not elaborate.
Scepter uses two rotary furnaces and one side-well furnace at the Midway facility. The plant housing Scepter was built in 2002 and acquired by the company in 2010.
TDEC officials said something caused the baghouse "to pressurize and explode."
TDEC spokeswoman Shannon Ashford said in an email answer to questions that there "were uncontrolled emissions during the fire."
"However, no tangible environmental harm has been determined at this time," Ashford said.
A 'MAJOR FIRE'
Mark Braswell, a TDEC Environmental Field Director who is based in Johnson City, responded by email to a Greene County citizen who inquired about the fire a day or so after it occurred.
Braswell said in that reply that Scepter reported a "major fire" at the plant, with "one module severely damaged with some structural damage and the other one has bags burnt out of it."
"They have properly notified our department," Braswell wrote in the email.
"The affected modules will not be returned to operation until their required air pollution control equipment is in place and operational," Braswell wrote.
On Oct.14, TDEC's Division of Air Pollution Control directed the facility to cease all production on the reverberatory furnace "until adequate control equipment was back in place," Ashford said.
"The facility representative assured TDEC that the furnace was not, and would not, be operational until everything had been repaired.
"At that time, TDEC also directed the facility to submit a report of the incident to the Technical Secretary of the Air Pollution Control Board for review," Ashford said.
Ashford said there is heavy damage to the area where the fire started.
"The fire resulted in significant structural damage to the first cell of the baghouse used to control the emissions for the reverberatory furnace.
"As a result of the damage, the reverberatory furnace will not become operational again until baghouse repairs can be completed," Ashford said.
TDEC was told by Scepter that the fire cause has not been identified so far through the internal investigation.
"The facility is still unsure of what actually caused the baghouse to pressurize and explode," Ashford said.
"According to the facility representative, the operators working on Oct. 12 had just charged material into the reverberatory furnace and were standing aside awaiting the temperature of the furnace to raise so they could charge again," she said.
She said operators "heard a loud, high-pitched sound and then the first cell of the furnace's baghouse exploded and became engulfed in flames."
The explosion and fire caused the second cell of the baghouse to catch on fire.
"The operators responded by manually closing the dampers to the baghouse cells to try to suffocate the fire," Ashford said.
"This was effective for the second cell of the baghouse, which did not receive significant structural damage."
Structural damage to the first cell of the baghouse "prevented effective use of the dampers due to air infiltration," Ashford said.
"This resulted in a fire that lasted approximately four-to-five hours. No additional charges were fed to the reverberatory furnace, and the furnace was allowed to cool and eventually emptied," she said.
PROCESS BEING MONITORED
The initial phase of the TDEC investigation is complete, but Ashford said TDEC "will continue to monitor the progress of the repairs at Scepter."
TDEC's Division of Air Pollution Control received information about the fire on Oct. 14.
"At that time, phone communication was established with the facility to discuss the events that took place on Oct. 12.
"It was determined to have been an industrial accident that resulted in significant damage to the control equipment (baghouse) for the reverberatory furnace," Ashford said.
On Oct. 18, TDEC conducted an unannounced site visit to view the damage and verify information provided about the fire by the company.
"TDEC personnel observed the damaged baghouse, verified that the reverberatory furnace was empty and not operational, and reviewed onsite records to verify the facility was operating within the parameters permitted for the reverberatory furnace prior to the incident," Ashford said.
The local Scepter plant employed about 50 people as of this summer.
A summary of facility operations submitted earlier this year by Scepter said the company "is responsible for recycling all types of aluminum scrap and dross; (and) buying, selling and trading aluminum and casting aluminum rolling sheet ingot."
Scepter Inc., a privately held company, is based in Waverly, Tenn. It acquired the former MD Recycling plant in 2010.
Scepter also operates two plants in New York state, two in Quebec, Canada, and one in Indiana.