Three people were injured Friday afternoon in a chemical explosion that tore a gaping hole through the roof of an industrial warehouse adjacent to Lakeland Linder Regional Airport.
Three employees of Taste Advantage, which manufactures flavor ingredients from a warehouse facility that’s part of Ruthven Business Park II on Drane Field Road, received minor chemical burns and other employees were treated on site for chemical exposure, said Sgt. Gary Gross of the Lakeland Police Department.
“They’re going to be fine, the injuries were not critical,” he said.
Two people were treated at Tampa General Hospital and one was treated at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center after the explosion that happened about 3:47 p.m.
The explosion was sparked by workers using the chemicals tolulene and sodium hypochlorite to clean kettles containing flavoring agents, said Lakeland Police spokeswoman Robin Tillett.
Exactly what caused the explosive reaction was unknown as of late Friday afternoon, she said.
According to Gross, the explosion triggered a small fire that was quickly doused by an overhead fire suppression system. There was no threat to the public from the chemical reaction that caused the explosion, he said.
Earlier this year, Taste Advantage and its parent company, Natural Advantage in Oakdale, La., were investigated by agents with the Drug Enforcement Agency in case involving a chemical supply company.
Robert E. Puterbaugh, of the law firm Peterson & Myers who was representing the company, said at the time that the investigation appeared to be administrative in nature.
The company opened a 12,800-square-foot facility at 3135 Drane Field Road in 2006, making flavors for beverage, confectionery and oral care products.
Joe P. Ruthven and his son, Greg, inspected the site of the explosion Friday and said the incident appeared minor but it could have been disastrous.
“All the people got out safe, there’s nothing serious to our knowledge,” the elder Ruthven said. “To my knowledge, they (Taste Advantage) have never had an accident, but this is a serious one. It’s a shock.”
According to witnesses, the explosion shot a fireball through the roof and roughly 60 feet into the air, he said.
“Overall, we were very, very fortunate,” Greg Ruthven said. “Nobody was carried out on a stretcher. Whatever happened blew straight up.”