Five workers at the Special Metals nickel alloy plant in rural Boyd County were taken to a local hospital Sunday night for treatment of symptoms caused by exposure to sulfuric acid.

The workers mainly complained of eye and respiratory irritation. None of their injuries were serious, said Matt Adkins, director of the Ashland Boyd County Cattlettsburg Office of Emergency Management.

The incident occurred about 11:50 p.m. in a building at the plant where metal is treated with acid, Adkins said. The workers were exposed after a tank containing a mixture of sulfuric acid and water was overfilled because of a steam leak, he said.

What apparently happened, Adkins said, was that workers were trying to repair the steam leak and failed to notice the tank was overfilling.

When an overflow occurs, the building’s ventilation system shuts down in order to prevent chemical vapors from being released into the atmosphere, Adkins said.

The exposed workers were decontaminated in showers set up at the plant, and again when they arrived at King’s Daughters Medical Center, he said.

About a dozen additional workers were examined at the plant, but were not taken to the hospital.

The incident was the second in less than two months at the Special Metals plant, which is about 10 miles south of Catlettsburg on Mayo Trail Road.

On Sept. 28, five employees suffered minor injuries when a series of explosions rocked the plant’s melt shop. The blasts were believed to have been caused by water coming into contact with molten metal. Ten additional employees were evaluated on site, but did not require medical attention.

Adkins said he did not believe the two incidents occurring in such close proximity was indicative of serious problems at the facility.

“I truly believe it’s a coincidence,” he said, noting that prior to the September blasts, the last serious incident at the facility occurred 15 to 20 years ago, when several employees were burned by acid.

Special Metals, formerly INCO Alloys, produces nickel-based alloys in various forms that are used in a number of different applications.

KENNETH HART can be reached at or (606) 326-2654.

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