Chemical spill injures plant worker

The lab where the spill took place was sealed off and the workers evacuated.

Published May 8, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - A laboratory employee at the Cemex cement plant north of Brooksville was hospitalized Monday when a glass receptacle containing a quart of corrosive solvent exploded while he was handling it.

Guillermo Paredes of Spring Hill, one of two people working in the lab around 2 p.m. when the accident occurred, was transported to Oak Hill Hospital, where he was treated for cuts and first-degree burns on his hands and face, a plant spokesman said.

The other worker was uninjured.

According to plant manager Mike Gonzales, Paredes was working with nitric acid, a colorless, highly corrosive liquid that is commonly used as a solvent.

Gonzales said he did not believe that Paredes had inhaled the substance, which can give off harmful fumes when exposed to moist air.

"He said he was okay, but we wanted to make sure, " said Gonzales. "We don't take chances when it comes to this kind of thing."

Gonzales said that as soon as he heard about the accident, he immediately evacuated approximately 40 employees working at the plant at the time, including another lab employee who was working with Paredes.

The laboratory was immediately sealed off until a Hernando County hazardous materials team could neutralize the chemical.

One of the world's largest cement producers, Cemex has two locations in Hernando County.

The sprawling Brooksville plant off of U.S. 98 east of the Suncoast Parkway produces cement from limestone mined nearby, while the Spring Hill site uses the cement to make concrete and concrete products.

Hernando Fire Rescue assistant chief Frank DeFrancesco said that the hazardous materials team used sand to neutralize the chemical.

DeFrancesco said an outside contractor would be called in to complete the clean-up. He was uncertain about when the laboratory would be able to reopen.

Gonzales said that Paredes, a laboratory assistant at the plant, routinely handled nitric acid, and that the incident appeared to have been an accident.

"Obviously, we'll be looking into what happened, " said Gonzales.

"If there's any way we can prevent it from happening in the future, we want to know it."

Logan Neill can be reached at 848-1435 or lneill@sptimes.com.