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Sulfuric acid fumes force evacuation in Nicholasville

NICHOLASVILLE — Fumes from an open vat of sulfuric acid caused breathing difficulties for employees and prompted the Monday morning evacuation of a car-parts manufacturing plant.

The fumes caused uncontrollable coughing in one woman, who was sent to a Lexington hospital. She was not identified, and her condition was unknown. Seven other people were treated on the scene at McKechnie Vehicle Components, said Nicholasville Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Baker.

By 4 p.m. Monday the fumes had cleared from the plant, and the second shift was allowed to report for work, Baker said.

More than 80 employees were seen leaving the building at 801 John Watts Drive, just down the street from a Nicholasville fire station. They walked to a neighboring McKechnie facility.

The Nicholasville Fire Department had a mobile decontamination unit on the scene.

The incident was first reported about 9:30 a.m. Monday.

Nicholasville Assistant Police Chief John Branscum said employees had complained of exposure to sulfuric acid, which is used in daily operations at the plant. Branscum said the acid is used to clean auto parts before they are shipped from the factory.

"There was no leak," Branscum said. "However, employees who complained of the irritation were claiming to have a taste in their mouth, and having some respiratory issues."

Fire department personnel conducted a morning sweep of the plant to get air quality readings to see whether it was safe for employees to return to work. Branscum said there was no danger to the public.

About noon, the first shift was released for the day because the readings at that time were too high inside the plant.

In March, the McKechnie plant was the scene of a spill of sulfuric acid and hydrogen peroxide.