5 injured in blast at Newnan aluminum plant

Staff writers Willoughby Mariano and Jennifer Peebles contributed to this report.

About Bonnell Aluminum

William L. Bonnell formed the company that bears his name in 1955. He died in 1960, and the company later became part of Tredegar Corp. Its name changed from the William L. Bonnell Co. to Bonnell Aluminum about 10 years ago. It has long been a leading employer in the county.

Tredegar said in its first-quarter earnings report that its aluminum business tallied $85.5 million in net sales, down nearly 9 percent from the same period in 2015. Operating profit for the aluminum division was about $7.5 million for the first three months of this year, an increase of 41.7 percent from the January-March period last year.

Tredegar said sales prices of aluminum were down, but freight expenses and the volume of sales improved in the quarter, helping to account for the increase in operating profit.

Bonnell weathered the Great Recession, though the aluminum division’s sales were nearly cut in half from 2008 to 2009 as the downturn crushed the construction business. But sales have since returned to pre-recession levels as the company entered the automotive industry to diversify its portfolio.

For 42 years, Richard Sewell has owned a boat shop a stone’s throw from the Bonnell Aluminum plant in Newnan.

Being that close to one of Coweta County’s biggest employers had never been a cause for concern. Until Wednesday. At 9:15 a.m. an explosion at the plant injured five Bonnell employees, including two who were airlifted to Atlanta Medical Center. The blast rained debris down on Sewell Marina, punching holes in the roof and even sparking a fire in a boat, Sewell said.

“It blowed me out of my chair,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’re all OK. But it blowed chunks of concrete and steel all the way across Temple Avenue.”

The plant was evacuated as emergency responders tended to the injured. As of Wednesday evening, the names and conditions of the five people had not been released.

Likewise, neither the aluminum company nor the authorities would speculate on the cause of the blast, which took place in a casting area that is separated from the rest of the manufacturing plant. The company was working with local investigators, and a spokesman in Atlanta for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration said the agency is also investigating.

“Our highest priority at the moment is to ensure that our injured employees receive the care and support they need to recover from this unfortunate event,” Brook Hamilton, Bonnell Aluminum president, said in an emailed statement. “We want to extend our thoughts and prayers to all of those impacted by today’s event.”

OSHA records indicate two “serious” safety violations in 2012 at Bon L Manufacturing Co., which is listed by OSHA as being at the same address as the Bonnell facility.

The agency’s records show the plant on Bonnell Avenue was cited during an inspection under a code governing safe clearances for aisles, loading docks or other passageways. A second violation involved codes governing required guards for gears, sprockets and chains on machinery. The records do not indicate that anyone was injured in either case.

OSHA imposed penalties totaling $10,400, but those were reduced to $6,240 under an informal settlement, agency documents show.

Bonnell, formerly known as the William L. Bonnell Co., was founded in Newnan in the 1950s. The company is a division of Virginia-based Tredegar Corp., a publicly traded maker of plastic films and aluminum products. Bonnell serves numerous sectors, including the residential and commercial construction industries, lighting and electronics makers and the automotive industry.

The aluminum maker is one of Coweta County’s 10 largest employers, according to the county’s development authority.

The area where the explosion occurred will remain closed until the investigation is complete, Bonnell said Wednesday. The remainder of the facility, which was not affected by the accident, will resume operations Thursday morning.

Newnan police and fire departments were aided by the Coweta County fire department and sheriff’s office in responding to the call, and the Georgia State Patrol handled other calls in the county, Sgt. Chris Robinson with Newnan police said.

Wednesday’s explosion was not the first at the facility. A blast nearly 60 years ago killed two workers and injured at least four others at the site, according to a report at the time from The Associated Press. The December 1956 incident reportedly broke windows in nearby homes, sheared off the tops of small trees and knocked out power briefly to the city.