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Pharmaceutical plant evacuated after discovery of methane

Posted on by SST

A pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in Aiken, S.C., was closed on Oct. 22 for a day and a half following the detection of a hazardous chemical.

That morning, elevated levels of methane were read in the sewer system of the GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare Manufacturing plant, WJBF reported. Employees were immediately evacuated as authorities, led by the Center Fire Department, investigated the cause. By evening, the plant remained closed.

"We have communicated to employees that they are not expected to return to work until we have fully addressed this issue," the company said in a statement issued later that day. "Managers have been in contact with their teams, and all employees are encouraged to check in with the site before leaving for work."

The South Carolina plant employs about 200 workers. Their manufactured products include Lozenges, Panadol, Alli, Ecotrin, Beano, Sominex, Phazyme, Vivarin, Tagamet, Feosol, Contac, Nytol.

Combustible material
Methane can form an explosive mixture with the air when concentrations are as low as 5 percent, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. The gas is odorless and colorless, but can produce a "rotten egg" smell when mixed with hydrogen sulfide. Also, some commercial utility companies will add a chemical smell to the gas.

By Wednesday night, authorities at the Aiken plant managed to resolve the issue and resume operations, but only as a methane gas detector continued to ensure their safety, Aiken Standard reported.

"The sewer system has been addressed, and methane readings are down to a safe level," said Teresa Caro, spokeswoman for GSK. "As an additional safety step, the site increased ventilation in the impacted area, and a crew member is monitoring the sewer system by taking methane readings every 30 minutes."

It has not been reported if the elevated levels resulted from a gas leak or other source.

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