Chemical Reaction Forces Evacuation

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 @ 07:10 PM gHale

Investigators are trying to determine the cause of a chemical reaction that forced the evacuation of a business and closure of some nearby streets in Green Bay, WI, Monday morning.

The incident at the Carboline Co., a coatings manufacturer on Green Bay’s east side, sent white smoke into the air outside the facility, brought a hazardous-materials team to the scene and closed a few streets for several hours.

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“Our biggest concern was (making certain) that the smoke that was being produced was not toxic for the people around the area,” said Lt. Nick Craig, spokesman for the Green Bay Metro Fire Department. The department had several crews at the scene — 45 firefighters responded.

There were no injuries reported in the incident. Mike Steinberger, general manager of the facility, could not say how many employees were in the building at the time of the incident, but noted they were able to return safely to work later Monday. About 90 people work at the plant. The Brown County Hazardous Materials Team will investigate.

A Carboline worker apparently mixed the chemicals inside the plant sometime Sunday night, Craig said. A company spokesman said the chemicals are ingredients to make epoxy paint. Officials at Carboline, which has its corporate office in St. Louis, said workers noticed a chemical reaction.

“Consistent with protocols for such incidents, the workers placed the batch into six 55 gallon drums and moved the drums to the designated environmental containment area outside of the plant, where the product could be kept isolated from other chemicals,” the company said, but did not identify the chemicals involved.

Fire Battalion Chief Robert Wiegert said a Carboline employee noticed sometime Monday morning a chemical reaction had started. They moved the barrels to an area north of the plant, Wiegert said.

“When the two products are mixed together, they heat up,” Craig said. “Why they were mixed together on-site is something we’re seeking an answer for.”

The incident ended up reported just before 8:30 a.m. and firefighters used an aerial truck and at least three other water sources to soak the six drums containing the material. Craig said the soaking cools the chemicals, reducing the potential danger.

Firefighters wore full breathing apparatus because they were concerned about danger from chemicals used at the plant; Carboline uses hydrochloric acid and ammonia in some of its processes, Wiegert said. They told people in a residential area just west of Carboline to stay in their homes.

In public records filed in February with emergency management officials, Carboline listed 11 chemicals on site as potential health hazards. These include several listed as fire or reactivity hazards: hexamethlyne diisocyanate polymers, methyl ethyl ketone, phenol, phenolic resin, styrene and toluene.

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