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Tuesday, October 25, 2016 @ 12:10 PM gHale

Over 100 people ended up treated for respiratory issues after a chemical spill at an MGP Ingredients Inc. facility Friday generated a chemical cloud over Atchison, KS.

Schools ended up evacuated and officials issued a shelter in place for residents along with advising people not to enter the city. After the chemical cloud dissipated, they gave the all clear sign.

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The two chemicals involved in the spill were sulfuric acid and sodium hypochlorite, which mixed to create a chlorine cloud. MGP Ingredients makes bourbon and rye whiskeys, gins and vodkas, according to its website.

“The cloud was massive,” Atchison Fire Department Chief Ted Graf said. “I’m not even sure how to describe it.”

Seventy-two people ended up treated locally for respiratory discomfort and an additional 30 received treatment at regional medical facilities, although the injuries were minor, said Trey Cocking, Atchison city manager. Cocking described the effects of the chemical cloud as being like mustard gas, a chemical weapon.

Cocking said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had declared the area clear after completing air-quality tests.

The incident occurred at 8 a.m. when the two chemicals were mistakenly mixed at the MGP Ingredients facility after one was brought in by a semi-tractor tanker, Cocking said.

Founded in 1941, MGP Ingredients employs 320 people, according to the company’s website.

“MGP Ingredients has reported the event to the EPA and Kansas and local authorities, and is cooperating fully to investigate and ensure that all appropriate response actions are taken. MGP has also engaged outside experts to assist the investigation and response,” company officials said.

“There was no significant damage to its Atchison plant as a result of this incident,” it added.

Cocking said cleanup work was under way at MGP on Friday night.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016 @ 01:10 PM gHale

A 100-gallon oil leak sprung up from bedrock underneath the environmental cleanup site at the former New York Air Brake plant off Starbuck Avenue.

The subject of the oil leak was brought up by Peter S. Ouderkirk, Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) project manager for the Air Brake plant remediation, during a presentation at Monday night’s Watertown, NY, City Council meeting.

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Ouderkirk said the hydraulic oil escaped from bedrock following a rainy weekend and seeped up to the surface in a crater crews had dug to remove contaminated soil. The oil spill ended up discovered almost three weeks ago when workers returned to work after the weekend, Ouderkirk said.

The oil spill was found on the eastern portion of the Allison Test Room excavation, where some 5,000 cubic yards of sediment and soil have been removed as part of a $1 million remediation at the site of the Watertown Center for Business and Industry.

“Sometimes things pop up,” Ouderkirk said. “Sometimes when you’re digging, you find unknowns.”

DEC officials and SPX, the North Carolina company legally responsible for the Air Brake cleanup, will work together to determine its origin and how to clean it up, a DEC spokeswoman said.

“There are no immediate threats to public health or the environment from this spill,” the DEC spokeswoman said in the email.

SPX — which owned the Starbuck plant when many of the pollutants were dumped decades ago — reported the oil spill on Sept. 30 to the DEC spill incidents database, according to a document obtained by the Watertown Daily Times. It was unclear how much time had elapsed between the spill discovery and its report to DEC officials.

But representatives from SPX, its consultant and DEC were “mobilized to the site to manage the oil and effectively address the situation,” the DEC spokeswoman wrote.

The Allison Test Room project includes excavating some 5,000 cubic yards of petroleum-and-solvent-polluted soil from an area slightly larger than 17,000 square feet, according to a fact sheet released this summer by DEC.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016 @ 01:10 PM gHale

A 59-year-old Nebraska man died Monday night after suffering from exposure to a cloud of anhydrous ammonia that leaked from a pipeline north of Tekamah, NE.

Phillip W. Hennig of Tekamah died after driving through the gas cloud.

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Magellan Midstream Partners of Tulsa, Oklahoma, said its 8-inch pipe system began to leak late in the evening. Cause of the leak is under investigation. Anhydrous is widely used as fertilizer.

Area residents called authorities at 9:20 p.m. Monday saying they smelled anhydrous at 3310 County Road P about eight miles north of Tekamah and just west of U.S. 75.

“Being farmers, they knew (smelling) anhydrous was not a good thing,” said Burt County Emergency Manager Terry Schroeder. “They started calling 911.”

Emergency responders evacuated 40 to 50 people from a 2-mile radius around the site and shut down area roads including U.S. 75 going both directions between Nebraska 32 in Tekamah to Nebraska 51 in Decatur, he said.

The area is rural and primarily farm ground. Displaced families either spent the night with relatives or at the Decatur Community Center.

The evacuation remained intact and roads remained closed as of 2 p.m. Tuesday.

Schroeder said there were concerns shifting winds could carry the anhydrous cloud. Some people have been allowed to return to their homes briefly to get medications. They were accompanied by officials who monitored the air to ensure their safety.

Magellan has shut off the section of pipe where the leak happened and is letting the remainder of the liquid anhydrous leak out. Once that occurs, workers will be able to work on the pipeline.

Nebraska State Patrol’s HazMat team, working with Tekamah Fire and Rescue, reached the site and removed Hennig’s body just before 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to Burt County Sheriff Robert Pickell.

There were no other injuries reported.

Magellan said it notified state and federal authorities. A response center has been set up in Decatur.

Magellan spokesman Tom Byers said the company grieves with Hennig’s family.

The anhydrous pipeline provides fertilizer in several Midwestern states. It starts near Borger, Texas, and travels through Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa, with a branch that extends into Minnesota.

Anhydrous evaporates into a pungent gas with suffocating fumes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It causes rapid dehydration and severe burns when it combines with water in the body. Symptoms include burning eyes, nose and throat from breathing even small amounts. Higher exposure causes coughing or choking and death from a swollen throat or chemical burns to the lungs.

Magellan, in cooperation with local emergency response personnel and state and federal regulatory agencies, is continuing to isolate and secure the 8” pipeline.

The following day, air quality monitoring at the release site and the surrounding area remained underway. While air quality improved, the readings did not warrant allowing local residents to return home, Magellan officials said.

Operations of the ammonia pipeline will remain suspended until all repairs can safely occur, Magellan officials said.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016 @ 11:10 AM gHale

Two 19-year-olds are facing charges after police arrested them on suspicion on launching massive DDoS attacks as part of the Lizard Squad and PoodleCorp hacking crews, said U.S. and Netherlands law enforcement agencies.

Zachary Buchta of Fallston, Maryland, and Bradley Jan Willem van Rooy of Leiden, the Netherlands, are the real names behind some different online monikers.

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Officials said Buchta was the man behind the “fbiarelosers,” “pein,” “xotehpoodle,” and “lizard” Twitter accounts, while van Rooy operated the “Uchiha,” “UchihaLS,” “dragon,” and “fox” personas.

Both are now in custody in their countries after authorities arrested them at the end of September on charges of conspiracy to cause damage to protected computers.

Buchta and van Rooy operated the,,, and websites, which offered DDoS-for-hire services, officials said.

The investigation into the group didn’t start because of these websites, but because of the service, which allowed anyone to purchase on-demand harassment phone calls.

In one case, a victim from the US state of Illinois received threatening phone calls every hour for 30 days. The message was:

“Better look over your [expletive] back because I don’t flying [expletive] if we have to burn your [expletive] house down, if we have to [expletive] track your [expletive] family down, we will [expletive] your [expletive] up [expletive].”

Authorities looking into the website’s operation soon discovered ties to other websites operated by the Lizard Squad and PoodleCorp groups. PoodleCorp is a new name adopted by Lizard Squad in the summer of 2016.

According to the Department of Justice, the two 19-year-olds had another two accomplices, one named “Chippyshell,” Lizard Squad’s founder, and the second, called “AppleJ4ck,” the owner of the vDos service, who police arrested in Israel last month.

Buchta and van Rooy are the fourth and fifth suspects detained for ties with the Lizard Squad hacking crew. Previously police arrested two teens in the UK and one man in Finland. Authorities only questioned the two UK teens, while the Finnish man received a suspended prison sentence.

Lizard Squad is tied to hundreds of DDoS attacks, usually against gaming companies, which group members advertise on Twitter.

Buchta and van Rooy face up to ten years in prison for their crimes if convicted.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016 @ 10:10 AM gHale

An explosion in a Forks Township, PA, manufacturer’s waste silo Friday night forced firefighters to battle a blaze for seven hours, officials said.

The blast occurred at 7:15 p.m. at Ecopax, a manufacturer that makes foam and plastic food containers.

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The damage ended up contained to the 36-foot silo, which measures 12 feet in diameter. Exopax uses it to store polystyrene waste, said Bill Carver, chief of the Forks Township Fire Department.

The facility, which opened three years ago, shut down because of the fire.

“They had to shut down to put that silo back in service,” Carver said. “Their indication was it would be a week or so before they could do production again.”

The fire department was at the scene until about 2:30 a.m. Saturday, he said.

The bulk of the time was spent assessing the situation and gaining safety assurances before treating the silo, Carver said, adding there was never any threat outside of the property.

“We didn’t want to use water initially because the product can cause runoff that gives off hazardous materials,” he said.

“We wanted to make sure that we did it correctly because it was in a silo and nobody had a lot of experience with that type of a silo. Much of it was getting the engineers to talk to each other and make sure we did what we needed to do the right way.”

The Lehigh County Hazardous Materials team was called to contain the runoff before the fire department doused the tower. The state Department of Environmental Protection and an engine from East Lawn Fire Co. also assisted, Carver said.

The silo is the only one used to store the plastic waste at Ecopax.

“Three others silos store different dry materials but none of them were in danger, none of them were compromised,” Carver said.

Authorities suspect a static spark inside the silo triggered the blast, which was heard at nearby residences.

“We may never know for sure,” Carver said. “The material is susceptible to spark and sometimes that happens.”

This was the second fire at Ecopax this year. In May, a commercial roll of polystyrene caught fire inside the building but the sprinkler system kept it from spreading.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016 @ 08:10 AM gHale

Production at Akebono halted for about an hour last Monday night when an acid cloud formed when two incorrect products mixed together.

“An acid cloud formed and we checked to make sure there was nothing residual,” said Elizabethtown, Kentucky, Fire Department Chief Mark Malone.

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He said there was no spill on site and the location authorities responded to was in the “back section” of the plant.

“The cloud was covered and never got out of the container,” he said.

Malone said two or three people were looked at by Hardin County EMS, but refused further treatment.

He said EFD was on location for about an hour, receiving the call around 8:41 p.m. Work continued after EFD cleared the scene.

Akebono is a motor vehicle brake systems and parts maker.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016 @ 07:10 PM gHale

Clean-up work at the Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, NY, continued Saturday after a leak spilled an unknown amount of lubricating oil into a drainage canal that leads to the Hudson River.

“There was no oil observed in the Hudson River, and we have contract environmental professionals onsite yesterday and today to mitigate as necessary and monitor the canal and river,” said Entergy spokesman Jerry Nappi.

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An unknown amount of lubricating oil spilled at Indian Point on Friday after the cooling system for one of the turbines malfunctioned.

Nappi said the turbine is on the non-nuclear side of the plant, so no radiation released.

During a press conference at Indian Point on Friday night, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that he was confident the situation was under control.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) got the call Friday to check on the situation, but as of Saturday the DEC had not yet posted any information about the spill on its online spills database.

In May 2015, about 3,000 gallons of oil seeped into the Hudson River after a transformer caught fire, automatically shutting down the Unit 3 generator. The mishap, which brought Gov. Andrew Cuomo to the scene, was the result of faulty insulation that caused a short circuit in a high-voltage coil.

Friday, September 23, 2016 @ 12:09 PM gHale

An explosion likely caused by fish-meal dust caused major damage to a Dutch Harbor, Alaska, seafood processing plant Monday night, officials said.

The blast occurred inside the Westward Seafoods Inc. plant on Captains Bay Road at about 6:45 p.m. Monday, said Mike Holman, director of Unalaska’s Department of Public Safety. Thirteen members of the department responded.

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There were employees inside the building at the time of the explosion, but no one suffered an injury. Westward Seafoods President Mark Johanson confirmed employees were in the facility, which he described as mostly “one large open space,” but were not injured.

The blast likely occurred when an undetermined ignition source detonated dust from the production of fish meal, often used as feed for other fish, Holman said.

Johanson said the exact cause of the blast was still undetermined, though fish-meal dust was among the possible culprits. He declined to mention other possible causes.

“I don’t want to speculate at this point,” Johanson said. “We’ll do our investigation and obviously we’ll learn from it.”

Johanson said the fish-meal plant remained closed for the time being, due to the extent of the damage.

“There’s quite a bit of damage inside the building — some of the pipes erupted, and one of the doors was blown off its hinges into a container,” Holman said.

Holman said no foul play is currently suspected in the blast, which is also being investigated by the state fire marshal. The plant’s sprinkler system extinguished the resulting fire before crews arrived but contributed to damage estimates well beyond the $100,000 first reported after the fire.

“It sounds like the sprinklers, when they went off, they dumped a lot of water on all the electrical equipment,” Holman said.

Johanson said pollock season was wrapping up and the fish-meal plant isn’t needed in any current fishery openings. The company was optimistic the plant will be fully operational in time for another pollock season in January, he said.

Holman said he has seen two fish-meal dust explosions at Dutch Harbor plants during his 21 years with the department, but those blasts hadn’t been as costly as the one Monday.

The incident remained under investigation.

Monday, September 19, 2016 @ 04:09 PM gHale

Workers evacuated a major snack maker in Madison Heights, MI, Thursday night after a fire raged inside the plant, officials said.

Over 60 workers evacuated from the Kars Nuts plant at 7:30 pm, after flames broke out in a room where they wash products.

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Firefighters had to clear heavy smoke from the plant, before they could assess the damage. The factory employs 200 workers.

Five fire departments were on hand to help out.

About 200 employees work there on three different shifts, but it’s unclear how long operations will be suspended by last night’s fire.

A statement from the company says all of the equipment is in working order, and production is expected to resume early next week.

“Our full workforce is here today and will be through the weekend cleaning all of our equipment, just to ensure it is completely safe before resuming production,” the statement said. “We are working closely with health officials to ensure compliance every step of the way. The safety and quality of our products is our highest priority.”

A cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016 @ 08:09 AM gHale

Partial production resumed Wednesday at the Smithfield Foods processing plant in Monmouth, IL, which shut down after a fire last Monday, officials said.

The fire was called in at 5:09 p.m.  Crews from nine departments worked to bring fire under control by 7:30 p.m., though Monmouth Fire Chief Casey Rexroat said firefighters had to extinguish flare-ups throughout the night.

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Rexroat said it’s believed the fire started in a rendering area in the north part of the plant, though it’s not yet known how it started. The extent of the damage is still being determined. Over 1,600 people work at the plant.

Rexroat said one firefighter ended up treated and released at the hospital for heat exhaustion. There were no other injuries reported and all of Smithfield’s employees are accounted for. Due to the Labor Day holiday, only about a dozen workers were in the plant when the fire started.

Joseph Hathaway, a worker at the plant, waited out the fire with co-workers at a muster point outside the plant.

“All we saw was a bunch of black smoke when we were evacuated out. We had a couple people come in, tell us there was a fire, and they escorted us out rather quickly,” Hathaway said.

The neighboring Cloverleaf Cold Storage facility also evacuated during the fire. City Administrator Lowell Crow said that was done as a precaution because a flash freezing tunnel connects Smithfield and Cloverleaf. He said there was a risk of an ammonia cloud forming if the flames reached the tunnel.

The nearby Prairie Point apartment complex was also evacuated as a safety precaution but those residents were allowed to return to their homes Monday night.

Crow hoped to learn soon when work can resume at the Smithfield plant. He said the business is important to the community’s economy.  

“That plant does employ a little over 1,600 people, which affects the community as a whole. Additionally, they are one of our largest users of water and sewer, and that’s an additional revenue source,” Crow said.