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Chemical reaction causes evacuation around Kan. manufacturing firm

The bad chemical reaction occurred when workers at the facility were mixing hydrogen peroxide, benzoyl chloride and azelaic acid

By Erin Mathews
The Salina Journal

SALINA, Kan. — An unanticipated chemical response in a north Salina manufacturing plant caused the evacuation of homes and businesses within a half-mile radius for about two hours Friday afternoon.

Salina Fire Marshal Roger Williams said a 15-foot by 20-foot tank that was about one-quarter full of benzoyl peroxide began to heat up, creating a white plume that vented out of the smoke stack at Research Products, a division of McShares, 1835 E. North.

“The community’s safe,” Williams said. “All the necessary evacuations have taken place. We have the product contained. We’re still assessing the situation, and we’re working on remediation of the product.”

Williams said the incident occurred during normal operations at the Salina firm, which makes food additives and mixes of vitamins and minerals, shipping them worldwide to be added to wheat, rice and corn flours and cereals. According to information on the U.S. Department of Agriculture website, benzoyl peroxide is used in bleaching flour.

“They were doing their normal operations making their product, and during the course of that manufacturing process they create a pellet,” Williams said. “Somehow during the process — we aren’t exactly sure how or why yet — it went into gel form, which is not a good thing.”

The bad chemical reaction occurred when workers at the facility were mixing hydrogen peroxide, benzoyl chloride and azelaic acid, according a Salina County Emergency Management news release about the incident.

No injuries were reported.

No risk to public

According to a statement from McShares, chemicals in a tank reacted abnormally and the cause will be investigated. Company officials decided to err on the side of caution, and the fire department’s hazardous response team was called “to create an exclusion zone” for the safety of the company’s employees and other people in the surrounding area.

“The chemical reaction site is contained and there was no leak, no fire and no hazardous chemical release,” according to the statement. “The reaction was suppressed per our Emergency Action Plan and will be mediated as time permits. Currently there is no risk to the public or property.”

The Salina Fire Department hazardous materials response team was called in to assist at 3:05 p.m. Salina police officers helped block off streets surrounding the building and notified people in the area that they needed to evacuate. Residents and businesspeople were allowed to return at about 5:15 p.m.

Sprinklers cool tank

Williams said officials followed protocols detailed in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Emergency Response Guidebook.

Williams said the white plume dissipated quickly in the brisk breeze, and no further vapors were being emitted from the building. However, the area remained evacuated for more than two hours while local officials consulted with national officials and then took the necessary steps to mitigate the explosive potential of the material.

Williams said a sprinkler system inside the building activated as it should and was cooling the tank in which the chemical was held. He said the temperature of the material was about 130 degrees, which was well below its explosive threshold.

“My impression is since the sprinkler went off, it cooled it down enough that it didn’t get hot enough to explode,” Williams said. “We’re letting the sprinkler system continue to flow on top of that vessel and keep that temperature cool.”

Shortly before the evacuation was ended, Williams said about 3 to 4 feet of cold water was being added to the chemical in the tank and the sprinkler was going to remain on to keep the tank cool. He said the material would be allowed to cool for a couple of days before it would be drained out of the tank by a reclamation company.

Williams said he assumed U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors would have to clear the facility before operations could resume. Company representatives could not be reached Friday afternoon.

Nearby workers take break

Two employees of Great Plains Trucking were waiting for the all-clear in the parking lot at the Casey’s General Store at the intersection of Ohio and North streets so they could return for a vehicle. They said people walked through the plant and told employees to evacuate.

“They come in and tell me to evacuate, I ask no questions,” one man said. “I leave, and then ask.”

Dennis Brooks, a resident of Lakewood Townhouses, was also among the people waiting at Casey’s.

“I don’t know how anything like this could happen, but it does,” Brooks said. “At least I’m here at Casey’s and can get something to drink.”

Copyright 2017 The Salina Journal

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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