Several employees at an Athens manufacturing plant were treated after they became sick on Wednesday morning.
Two employees at Mills Products, Inc. in Athens, reported feeling ill around 8:30 a.m. Additional employees started experiencing nausea and headaches soon after.
Seventeen employees were hospitalized, according to WTVC in Chattanooga.
On Thursday, an employee was sent to the hospital after feeling ill. The plant says it is unrelated to Tuesday’s events.
Linda Peeler owns Athens Tool and Engineering, a company across the street from Mills Products, and says she could hear sirens all morning.
“I figured something was going on somewhere and little did I know until I walked out the door to take some mail to the mailbox that it was next door,” said Peeler.
The plant was cleared by the Athens Fire Department, TEMA and McMinn County Emergency Management officials. A root cause has yet to be discovered.
“We ran our monitors through four times I think. We ran AUB’s, the local utility, monitor through a couple of times and then we brought in the county HAZMAT team. They have a little more sophisticated monitor and we ran them through twice on grid searches,” said Athens Fire Chief Jim Dyer.
Crews spent the day working to rule things out, food poisoning among the list, and they’re trying to find some kind of link.
“We have also gathered material safety data sheets for any chemicals that are stored or utilized in their processes. Those are being reviewed to see if there are any commonalities to symptoms to exposure to those chemicals,” added Athens City Manager C. Seth Sumner.
No new cases of illness were reported and the employees treated Wednesday morning were released by their healthcare providers.
“We’re all like a family in this industrial park and we all look out for each other, so you never want to see anything bad happen to your neighbors,” said Peeler.
The facility resumed normal operations Wednesday afternoon.
Symptoms were only experienced by employees working the first shift. Athens Fire Department says they’ve given the facility suggestions on precautionary measures including having employees work in pairs and better ventilating the building.
Mills Products says in an unrelated event Wednesday, an employee was airlifted for a personal medical issue.
Emergency and utility crews are continuing to test the building.
Mills Products makes fabricated metal parts and has around 200 employees in two plants, one in Athens and one in Mexico.