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Recycling Center employee burned by commercial-grade detergent

By Sarah Richardson

A freak accident at the Greenbrier Recycling Center (GRC) several weeks ago left one employee injured after being burned by a commercial dishwashing detergent. GRC Manager Todd Riggs said that Harry Hudnall was moving recyclables from the drop-off boxes to the conveyor belt when a container of ECOLAB detergent overturned and splashed him, causing immediate burning.

”We have boxes that are filled up at the drop off area, then when they are full we put them on the tipper, which lifts the boxes of recyclables up and tips them onto the conveyor belt,” said Riggs. “The liquid in the bottle tipped and hit the conveyor belt and splashed onto his arms, chest, and lips.”

An ambulance was called and the employee was transported to the emergency room at Greenbrier Valley Medical Center, and he was later driven via ambulance to the Cabell Huntington Hospital’s Burn Unit. Quick action taken at the recycling center helped prevent the burns from being as bad as they could have been.

“Thankfully he was placed in the safety shower quickly,” said Riggs. “This was the first time we have used it. Doctors at the ER said that this stuff could burn through muscle if left long enough.”

After being treated by staff at both GVMC and in Huntington, Hudnall returned home to recover for several days before returning to work.

ECOLAB produces a variety of cleaning products for “industrial and professional” use, including laundry detergent and dishwashing detergents. The active ingredient in the product spilled on Hudnall is sodium hydroxide, which decomposes proteins and may cause severe chemical burns. Instructions given by the company state that in case of skin contact “wash off immediately” and “get medical attention immediately.” The product is designed to be diluted before use, and when used property after adding water it will not interact with skin as aggressively.

“Please, for the safety of the employees at the Recycle Center, make sure everything is clean and dry. Even though he was wearing safety equipment, we can’t cover everything,” said Riggs.

While the bottle of detergent itself was recyclable, the chemicals inside are not. When recycling, be sure your recyclables are empty, clean and dry and make sure to rinse to remove any residual material.

Clean recyclables don’t contaminate other types of materials, so the recycle stream stays out of the landfill.