11 people injured in chemical mishap at milk plant

PORTLAND, Ore. - Firefighters said eleven people were injured after two chemicals inadvertently mixed at a Southeast Portland Darigold milk plant.

Portland Fire and Rescue spokesman Paul Corah said a tanker truck driver showed up at the plant, hooked up a wrong hose and pumped a corrosive acid into a tank.

The incident happened at Darigold's facility at 2720 SE 6th Avenue.

"I was talking with a customer and we heard 'evacuate the building, this is not a drill'" said Ken Ward, who works across the street from the plant. "We heard it a couple of times."

Corah said the truck driver pumped in 450 gallons of acid into a tank that contained 1,150 gallons of a caustic liquid.

The mixing set off a chemical reaction and the tank heated up to 120 degrees. Fire crews were worried the tank might melt if it hit 150 degrees. It if does melt, toxic fumes could be released into the air. Crews are working to cool the tank with water so chemicals can be safely removed.

Corah said the driver noticed something was wrong when he saw yellow gas that shouldn't have been there. He was among the people who were injured.

A Darigold spokesman said the truck driver was from a third-party vendor.

The first firefighters on the scene called for backup from a hazardous materials team, which helped evacuate the plant. All the victims were decontaminated and placed in protective suits before being taken to the hospital.

They all suffered from breathing problems and upper respiratory problems. Darigold vice president Steve Rowe said the victims are expected to recover.

He also said none of the milk was tainted by the spill.

The facility is used to make "ultra-pasteurized" milk products.

Ultra-pasteurization is a process where milk is heated to a higher temperatures for shorter periods of time than normal pasteurization. It extends the shelf-life of milk.

An Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division spokeswoman said the agency does have an investigator on the scene.

The state said there have been no accidents at the plant in the last five years and no other chemical mix-ups in that period.

Plant operators were cited in March for having an unguarded screw on a conveyor that posed a risk to workers. The company was fined $210.