It was another cold day in March at POET Biorefining in Bingham Lake, where Jason Price works as a Shift Supervisor. He was working on the Waste CIP (Cleaning-in-Place) for a corn oil system, when an air regulator piece for an air pump ruptured. The normal temperature for the air regulator is about 200 degrees, that day it was only at 134 degrees. When the air pump ruptured, it sprayed sodium hydroxide on Price’s face, in his mouth and in his eyes. Sodium hydroxide is a caustic acid used in the petroleum and refining industry to remove impurities such as sulfur compounds and carbon dioxide. If this chemical comes in contact with a person’s skin, it can liquefy or melt the skin if action is not taken immediately. Price went quickly into action by finding the nearest eyewash station and chemical shower in the plant. He washed himself for about 30 minutes before his co-workers decided it was time to call 911.
When the ambulance arrived, they took action to get Price to the Emergency Department at Windom Area Health, so he could be treated for the sodium hydroxide sprayed on him. Upon arrival, the Decontamination (Decon) Team, comprised of Windom Area Health nurses and emergency management staff trained specifically for treating chemical decontamination, was prepared to decontaminate Price. “All I could remember telling the staff, was that it felt like my face was burning,” says Price. “They were efficient in getting the care I needed.”
Decon Team Activated
Before the ambulance arrived, the Decon Team prepared to treat Price. To prepare for the incoming patient, Doris Sale, a Windom Area Health Health Unit Coordinator, suited up in one of the decontamination suits. This is a suit to help prevent the Emergency staff from being exposed to certain chemicals patients may have on them. Greg Holt, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, and Robbie Newman, Radiology Tech, were also there to assist in caring for Price. Once the ambulance arrived, the Decon Team immediately got him out of the ambulance, stripped off his clothes and directed him to the decontamination area in the ambulance garage, where he was immediately doused with water continually for 15 minutes. Price recalls, “For as uncomfortable as it was for me to be standing in a shower being washed down in front of many people, the staff at Windom Area Health were very professional about the situation and I appreciated that.”
The Decon Team was becoming concerned with how cold Price was getting, due to the air temperature, no clothes and the water he was being hosed down with was cooler. Price notes how he will never forget how cold the day was in general, let alone being hosed down in cooler water, but it made for a memorable experience. The Decon Team moved Price inside, to one of the showers, to help warm him up. They continued to rinse off the chemical for another 15 minutes until he was cleared to be brought back to the emergency department. The sodium hydroxide has the capability to detach a person’s cornea, so the nurses placed medication into his eyes to assist in preventing this, which was a big relief for Price.
Following the incident, Price was given Lidocaine to help heal his burns. He also noted he had to take a few more showers after coming home from the emergency room, due to sodium hydroxide having the capabilities of reactivating on its own. Price also could not use soap for a few days following his incident, along with being cautious of what he ate or drank, due to the acidity level of the food or drink. The only complications he had from this incident included his mouth and lips blistering, the skin on his face peeled as it grew new skin and he did not have nose hairs for about a month. “After all that I went through, I would say I am pretty lucky. I did not have any permanent damage and I am extremely thankful I did not go blind, due to the amount of chemical I had in my eyes,” notes Price.
During this interview, Price had the opportunity to be reunited with some of the staff that helped him out that day. Hugs were given all around and many thanks were said. Price states, “I would recommend Windom Area Health to anyone. They were kind and professional, plus I appreciated the follow up about my condition.”
A Learning Experience
This situation was a learning experience for Windom Area Health. “These situations do not happen often, but when they do we have to be prepared,” states Greg Holt. Although the Decon Team was successful with this scenario, they continue to have training in order to continue to be effective. One thing that was implemented due to the result of this situation was to the technology used for the Decon Team. The WISER app is now put into place for the Decon Team. Holt mentions, “This technology allows us to look up chemicals in an in instant and immediately know what to do.” Decon Team members have this app installed on their phones and the nursing staff has the program installed on their computers, to be prepared for any situation, which may arise.