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US transport company faces major fine for fatal chemical leak

18 February 2013

Following a deadly 2009 chemical leak after a defective transfer operation, Werner Transportation Services of Gainesville, Georgia, now faces a criminal charge of letting hazardous air pollution leak into the environment at an ammonia plant near Swansea, South Carolina.

The indictment by a federal grand jury is for violating the US Clean Air Act, the US Attorney’s Office said. The company faces a fine of up to $500,000 for the criminal misdemeanor charge.

The event took place in July 2009, when Werner Transportation Services negligently released anhydrous ammonia, a hazardous substance, and “negligently placed another person in imminent danger of death and serious bodily injury’’ in violation of federal law, the Attorney’s Office said.

Unaware of the leak, motorist Jacqueline Ginyard died after driving through a toxic ammonia cloud in front of the Tanner Industries Inc. plant outside Swansea. 

The leak occurred after a hose blew out while ammonia was in the process of transferring between the Tanner plant and a Werner tanker truck. Some 7,000 pounds of poisonous ammonia leaked after the wrong type of hose was used to make the transfer, according to the indictment.

The spreading cloud of ammonia, which can burn people’s lungs, sent at least seven people in the Swansea area to the hospital and caused others to flee from the toxic threat. Leaking ammonia blackened trees and other vegetation for hundreds of yards around the Tanner Industries plant.

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