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Chemical spill injures 1, shuts down highway

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

A man was found passed out in a puddle of toxic chemicals at a dry cleaners.

Clayton County police responded to reports of a smell -- reportedly "something very strong, a suspicious, chemical smell" -- at Femrose Cleaners, west of Riverdale on Ga. Highway 138, at about 12:50 p.m., Wednesday.

Inside the store, police found a man passed out on the floor, according to Clayton County Fire Chief Alex Cohilas.

The man was not immediately identified or named by authorities, but he apparently worked at the dry cleaners. When firefighters with the hazardous material response team rushed into the building, the man wasn't breathing.

He was reportedly taken to Southern Regional Medical Center with "full respiratory arrest."

"Our units went in fully bunkered-up, wearing their gear and breathing apparatus," said Cohilas. "We just did a quick extraction to get him out, but it's unclear, at this time, if it was a spill, an accident or some sort of combustion."

By about 2 p.m., the eastbound half of the highway was shut down, backing up traffic along the Clayton-Fayette line. Fayette County Sheriff's deputies were detouring traffic at the intersection of 138 and West Fayetteville Road, and the Hazmat team was preparing to go in a second time, in an attempt to contain and clean up the chemical spill.

The strip shopping center was cleared out, and red security tape, with the repeated words "DANGER DANGER," was strung up. On the east side of the center, the dry cleaners' banner was advertising a special: "10 pcs. for $19.99."

Four firefighters in bright blue suits and breathing masks were having their wrists and ankles taped with yellow duct tape.

On the other end of the shopping center, opposite Femrose Cleaners, the fire department's chiefs set up a command station, with one white board listing everyone on the scene and another listing the four objectives. "Rescue" and "emergency decontamination" were checked off in blue, but "ID chemical" and "contain spill" remained.

Cohilas said the concern for the Hazmat team wasn't the individual chemicals, which are all relatively well known, but the possibility of multiple chemicals mixing inside the dry cleaners.

"All chemicals and solutions are part of the Hazmat data base," Cohilas said.

One member of the team made a second entry a little before 3 p.m., to identify the chemical. The firefighters expected to have the scene contained, if not cleaned, by Wednesday evening.