Chemical accident results in evacuation

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Chemical accident results in evacuation

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Chemical accident results in evacuation

Tulsa World - October 18, 2006


MUSKOGEE -- An accidental mixing of two chemicals used to treat water at the city's water plant resulted in a toxic plume over the Port of Muskogee on Tuesday, officials said.

No injuries were reported, but about 200 workers were evacuated and the port was shut down for more than three hours. Area roads, including a section of the Muskogee Turnpike, also were shut down before being reopened a few hours later.

The incident occurred about 11:30 a.m. after a Groendyke Transport truck driver unloaded sodium chlorite into a container of a fluorosillic acid -- or fluoride solution -- which set off a dangerous chemical reaction, officials said.

The sodium chlorite carried by the truck driver was a 25 percent chlorine solution, which is pretty strong, Muskogee Assistant Fire Chief Nick Clark said. Sodium chlorite is used to purify water and the fluoride solution is added to drinking water to promote healthy teeth.

"Both are pretty safe by themselves, but it's dangerous when they're mixed together," Clark said. "It creates a chemical reaction that could cause a toxic gas or a flammable gas, which is what the cloud was . . . then it became more stable as time went on."

Jimmy Moore, director of Muskogee Emergency Management, said no one needed medical assistance, even though breathing the fumes can be fatal. The accident did not start a fire and officials reported no damage to the plant.

Moore said officials will focus on exactly what went wrong once the chemicals -- now contained and stabilized in a 50-gallon barrel -- are cleared from the site.

Possibilities are that the sodium chlorite was not supposed to be delivered to the water plant or that it was put into the wrong tank. It could have been a truck driver's error or an internal problem at the water plant, Moore said.

"It appears to be a problem on somebody's part," he said.

Lewis McLemore, operations manager at the Port of Muskogee, said the cloud was yellow-green and very large. Moore said the cloud dissipated rather quickly with Tuesday's breezy weather.

Workers at the water plant and the Grant Prideco company were the only facilities evacuated at the port, in addition to some elderly residents from at least two nearby homes.

They were allowed to return to their jobs and homes by Tuesday afternoon after the area was determined to be safe.

Police Capt. Scott Shields said the chemicals were contained inside a barrel and a hose connected to the truck when they were combined.

After a pump was turned off, the toxic batch of chemicals -- which amounted to about 20 gallons -- was put into a 50-gallon barrel. There was no spillage, officials said.

The Muskogee Fire Department and HAZMAT team spent the afternoon conducting an assessment of the site and preparing a clean-up plan. Clark said the chemicals are stable but still need to be disposed of by the HAZMAT team.

Muskogee Mayor Wren Stratton was briefed by officials at the plant. She said she understood that the sodium chlorite was delivered to the plant by mistake and was intended to go to another facility.

All of the emergency responding teams performed admirably, she said. "All of our training paid off," Stratton said.

Water plant superintendent Mike Tickle declined comment.

Steve Niswander, vice president and director of safety for Groendyke, said company officials are investigating the incident.

McLemore said that about 100,000 trucks come to the port a year.

SOURCE: ... Chemi69623
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