By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Toxic nitrogen vapors were released into the atmosphere late today at the troubled US Nitrogen facility in Midway, bringing a swift response from local emergency officials.
The vapor release, which was apparently quickly contained came as another effort to start up the key phase of the Greene County manufacturing operation failed yet again.
A previous effort produced an orange cloud which hung over the newly erected plant late last summer. Company officials later acknowledged that highly toxic nitrogen fumes had been released.
The latest startup effort began last week, according officials of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Fire officials were among those to respond today and Greene County Mayor David Crum and Sheriff Pat Hankins held an impromptu press conference declaring that the situation was under control.
"There was a nitric acid vapor release," Crum said, adding that the gas was toxic and could have harmed anyone who came into contact with it.
He and Hankins said there were no reports of injuries although residents in the area were cautioned to stay indoors.
Crum said emergency management responders were at the scene when the problem was first reported around 6:30 p.m.
Crum said that state environmental officials would be investigating and the county would also be seeking answers.
US Nitrogen released a statement acknowledging the vapor release and stating that the company alerted emergency management officials. The company said no employees were injured and they would cooperate with an investigation into the cause.
The emergency comes as TDEC is considering permit extension requests that US Nitrogen says will be needed to complete required continuous monitoring testing of the nitric acid facility. The extension requests come even as the company claimed the plant had reached full capacity.
In one state filing however, company officials conceded that because of poor marketing conditions they would be unable to sell the ammonium nitrate and byproducts the plant could produce.