Despite Safety Plan, Chem Releases, Again

Friday, July 17, 2015 @ 05:07 PM gHale

A hazardous materials chemical release at Haviland Enterprises in Grand Rapids, MI, is under control, according to Chief Executive Bernie Haviland.

The scare, which prompted a large emergency response, closed off several streets about 1 p.m. Tuesday. There were no reports of injury and authorities did not order evacuations, instead asking residents and employees at nearby businesses to stay inside.

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Haviland said the release was “mostly oxygen” from a packaging line where multiple chemicals blend and end up used.

“Until we can get into the building and examine what happened I don’t really know,” Haviland said. “This could have been mechanical or it could have been chemical.”

This wasn’t the first chemical release for Haviland.

Grand Rapids Fire Battalion Chief Dan Stoddard said it was essentially the same problem Haviland had in September last year, when an oxidizer came into contact with moisture and a chemical reaction occurred.

“We’re as disappointed and shocked as anybody that our safety measures were not successful.”

– Bernie Haviland, CEO

There were no reports of injuries and no apparent environmental damage. Haviland said he was relieved about that, but that “you can’t dress up a pig, here.”

The leak marks the third hazmat situation since March 2014 at Haviland, which manufactures and distributes chemicals for several industries, including pharmaceuticals and pools and spas.

“We’re as disappointed and shocked as anybody that our safety measures were not successful,” Haviland said.

He said the company would investigate to find out exactly what happened and reevaluate whether it will continue working with the chemicals involved.

The Tuesday situation was not as serious as the earlier incidents, but it was still costly for the city, which sent 11 of its 15 large fire engines to the scene. The city said it will again ask Haviland to cover the cost of the response. It previously billed the company around $27,000 for the two most recent incidents combined.

Haviland said it will cover the city’s costs for Tuesday’s incident.

There have been six incidents at Haviland since the early 1990s:
• The most recent was in September 2014, when a reaction cause a chemical plume.
• Before that, in March 2014, a chemical reaction inside the building created a vapor cloud outside.
• In 2002, 20 people ended up treated for exposure after a spill sent a plume of chemicals into the air. None of the injuries were serious. The company received a $6,000 fine.
• In 1991, a large fire sent a plume of toxic chlorine gas into the air. People had to stay inside for hours and the building ended up destroyed, but no one was hurt.
• There were also minor incidents in 2003 and 2004.

“We did exhaustive process, safety and incident analysis and we thought we put together all appropriate safety measures to prevent nothing like this would happen again,” Haviland said. “Our efforts just weren’t as successful as we had planned for them to be.”