Chem Plant HazMat Incident, Again

Tuesday, September 16, 2014 @ 03:09 PM gHale

A spill at a Haviland Enterprises, Inc. chemical plant sent a plume of chemicals in the air, forcing the evacuation of a section of northwest Grand Rapids, MI, Sept. 9.

The hazmat situation began around 1:15 p.m. as workers were mixing some chemicals at the Havliand Chemical plant at 421 Ann St. NW near Tuner Avenue.

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When an oxidizer came into contact with moisture, a chemical reaction occurred. The reaction created a vapor cloud that quickly expanded, officials said. The heat from the reaction caused the building’s sprinkler system to go off.

The added water from the sprinkler system caused the cloud of a mixture similar to chlorine to expand even more, and it left the building and began to drift to the northeast.

The chemicals are most dangerous in high concentrations. Authorities said inhaling the vapors could cause respiratory problems, so they evacuated homes and businesses around the plant as far north as West River Drive.

“All of the sudden, my bosses said, ‘There’s a cloud over by Haviland.’ You could hardly see the building. It was just a massive gas cloud,” said Steve Call, who works at a nearby welding business. That is when they evacuated.

While a strong breeze caused the cloud to dissipate quickly, evacuation orders for a large area around the plant stayed in place until around 4 p.m. as crews worked to assess and clean up the hazmat situation inside the building. Emergency responders started to clear the scene around 4:30 p.m.

One person ended up hospitalized, but that person’s symptoms do not appear to be a direct result of the hazmat incident. There were no other reported injuries.

The response required about a third of the Grand Rapids Fire Department force to come to the scene, as did firefighters from Walker and emergency responders from several other agencies.

“We just can’t ask for better civil service than what we have here. It’s really fantastic to be able to work with them,” Haviland Chief Executive Bernard Haviland said.

A private company will complete the cleanup in the plant after authorities deem the threat is over.

This is the second major hazmat situation this year at the Haviland Chemical plant, which mixes chemicals to make oxidizers and other chlorine-like products for pools. In March, a chemical reaction caused a vapor cloud to appear over the building. Several area buildings evacuated in that case. No one was hurt.

Bernard Haviland said his business may decide to no longer mix the particular oxidizer that was involved in both hazmat situations.

“The way to prevent [incidents] is for us to not handle this chemistry,” Haviland said. “A real possibility after two events in one year.”

He said the oxidizer, which Haviland Chemical produced for about five years, “may be too sensitive, too delicate, and too hazardous for us.”

“We may just jettison the chemistry completely,” he said.

The plant won’t close, Haviland said. The company will continue to produce other products, which are mostly pool-related.

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) cited Haviland Chemical for one “serious” violation in connection to the March incident. The state initially fined Haviland $3,500, but that fine later reduced to $1,750 after an “informal settlement,” MIOSHA records show.

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