An operational problem was blamed yesterday for a 3,000-gallon spill of a liquid plant killer at FMC Agricultural Products Chemicals in Curtis Bay that sent a gas plume into the air and brought complaints from neighbors of throat and eye irritation.
State environmental officials said that there was no serious threat to health or the environment from the Friday evening spill, but that anyone with bothersome symptoms should seek medical attention.
Last month, residents of the nearby Wagner's Point community -- citing health fears from the industries that nearly surround their homes -- asked the city, state and area companies to join in buying their homes so they can move out of the path of a planned "ecological industrial park."
Parker Dean, the chemical plant's health, safety and environmental manager, said yesterday that overheated production equipment caused the release of the herbicide, which turned into a gas when it came into contact with air. He was uncertain what chemical compounds were formed when the herbicide combined with air.
Quentin Banks, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said investigators from his agency will question plant workers and officials tomorrow for more specifics on the spill.
Rose Hindla, 34, president of the community association that represents homeowners near the plant, said she was driving home from work when a stench from the chemical cloud filled her van.
"I saw this massive cloud," Hindla said. "It must have covered a half-mile. And there was a disgusting smell."
Resident Betty Lefkowitz, 63, said the odor was like chlorine at a pool. She said she immediately felt effects from it.
"My mouth felt dry," she said. "My throat felt sort of weird, dry."
Firefighters were called to the scene about 7: 30 p.m., and were followed there by a city Fire Department hazardous-material task force and a team of investigators from the state Department of the Environment.
Although such a spill can prompt fire officials to sound a siren to warn residents, Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, a Fire Department spokesman, said the incident did not appear to warrant such action.
"It was a contained spill," Torres said. "It was confined to the plant."
Torres and Banks said they were unaware of complaints about the gas cloud causing eye or throat problems, although they said such problems can result from such a spill.
The cloud gradually dissipated, according to Banks.
Pub Date: 5/17/98