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Statesboro fire department assists in hazardous material chemical leak in Metter

An herbicide leak sent a truck driver to the hospital Thursday after fumes from the spilled chemical overcame him when he checked his load.
    An unidentified man driving a transfer truck owned by Estes Express Lines out of Richmond, Virginia, stopped at a Metter business Thursday afternoon, and apparently noticed the leak.  He opened his truck, and was overcome by fumes from spilled "Sucker Plucker,"  a herbicide manufactured by Drexel Chemical Company that is used to eliminate tobacco suckers.
    Witnesses called the Metter Fire Department, who in turn called for assistance from the Statesboro Fire Department, said Statesboro Fire Chief Dennis Merrifield.
    The Statesboro Fire Department, having a significant amount of hazardous materials response equipment, serves as the primary haz-mat responder in the GEMA 3 area that encompasses Statesboro and Metter, he said.
    The driver, whom Estes Express Lines spokesmen would not identify, apparently noticed the leak when he stopped, and opened his trailer to investigate, Merrifield said.
    The lid to a container filled with the Sucker Plucker had popped open, and traveling in the truck caused an amount of the chemical to spill, he said.
    Estes Express Lines Vice President of Safety Curtis Carlton said Thursday the chemical "is nonhazardous" and at first said the driver did not pass out.
    However, after learning of reports that the driver had indeed passed out and was transported to the hospital, Carlton said he reviewed additional reports and "the driver was light-headed ... and did pass out."
     He declined to identify the driver, citing privacy laws regarding medical issues.
    Carlton said "nothing leaked onto the ground and was confined to the ... tank and truck floor."
    Although Carlton said the chemical is "nonhazardous," Merrifield said the chemical is considered hazardous.  And according to Internet web site www.drexchem.com, the chemical is poisonous if swallowed, can cause "substantial but temporary eye injury," and can cause breathing difficulty.
    The company advises if a person is affected by breathing the fumes, move him to fresh air, and if he is not breathing, to call 911 and administer mouth-to mouth resuscitation.
    "Any time you have a product (like the Sucker Plucker) that comes out in mass quantities and is not applied properly, it is hazardous," Merrifield said. Factors such as the chemical mixing with other chemicals, such as carbon-based products used in motor vehicles, must be considered when judging whether a chemical is dangerous. "It still falls into the category of hazardous materials."
    Merrifield said others at the scene complained of breathing difficulty as well.
    Statesboro Fire Department personnel stood by as a company hired by Estes Express Lines conducted clean-up efforts, which took several hours, he said.
    "It was an unfortunate incident - a small incident," Carlton said.
    Swainsboro Fire Department personnel also responded to the scene to assist the Metter Fire Department. Calls to the Metter Fire Department and Metter Police Department Thursday were not returned.

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