A breakdown in equipment designed to scrub sulfur dioxide emissions from factory exhaust is being blamed for a two-alarm fire at the Atlas Minerals and Chemicals sulfur processing plant in Longswamp Township, Pennsylvania, on Monday.
Firefighters were dispatched to the plant at about 12:30 p.m. after a blaze ignited in the “scrubber,” a device which removes sulfur dioxide from the factory’s smokestack emissions. From the scrubber, flames spread through several buildings damaged during the emergency.
Atlas president Frank Hanson told local media that an overheated motor melted a plastic tank that circulates liquid through the scrubber, creating thick smoke.
When released into the atmosphere, sulfur dioxide reacts with other gases to create fine particles that harm human health and the environment. The term “scrubber” refers to flue gas desulfurization technology in which uses a wet slurry of either limestone or other chemicals such as lime or magnesium oxide.
The slurry is sprayed into a large chamber through which the factory exhaust is routed. Calcium in the slurry reacts with sulfur dioxide, removing it before the exhaust reaches the atmosphere.
Atlas manufactures corrosion-resistant construction materials and other industrial compounds.