Chemical Release Forces Health Advisory

Wednesday, April 1, 2015 @ 03:04 PM gHale

A health advisory ended up issued Friday morning after a machinery malfunction at the Dow Chemical plant in Pittsburg, CA.

Contra Costa County issued the Level 2 alert at 3 a.m. for Pittsburg and Antioch after heat and pressure buildup caused thousands of pounds of the chemicals to release in liquid form through a pressure relief device

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There was a visible plume spotted for about 10 minutes after release of the chemicals that make up soap-like products, a Dow spokesman said.

There were no injuries to the half dozen people inside the plant at the time, and no fire, he said.

Later on Friday, over 20 workers worked to clean up the release at the waterfront processing facility. The incident began at 2:50 a.m. at 901 Loveridge Road when a proprietary chemical known as Dowicil was mixing with methylene chloride in a large tank.

County officials issued a health advisory around 3 a.m. The all-clear went out around 5 a.m., and county officials lifted the health advisory at 5:39 a.m.

“The cleanup process has been going all morning and into the afternoon,” said Dow Chemical spokesman John Kneibel. “We expect to be just about done by the end of the day, and the material itself is relatively water soluble so that makes things move nicely.”

Kneibel said the part of the processing plant where Friday morning’s chemical release occurred will temporarily shut down while investigators conduct research into the cause of the incident.

Dowicil, the chemical released at the Pittsburg plant, is a biocide commonly found in liquid hand soap and other household materials like paint, Kneibel said.

“It’s not really all that bad, but we’re having our folks wear respirators for extra protection, and the hazmat suits are pretty typical,” Kneibel said.

Randy Sawyer, chief environmental health and hazardous materials officer for Contra Costa County, said the chemicals released seem to have stayed on-site but the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is aware of the incident due to concerns about how the nearby Dow Wetlands Preserve might feel the effects.

“It’s directly downwind from this processing plant, and if (the chemicals) did go offsite it would affect those wetlands,” Sawyer said. “It is toxic to aquatic life, so it’s definitely a concern.”

Alexia Retallack, with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the agency investigated Friday morning’s spill but determined the accident was largely outside their scope.

“The material that was released shot up, the solid material dropped on site, and the rest of it escaped into the atmosphere,” Retallack said. “It’s really out of our jurisdiction and not something we typically respond to.”

Methylene chloride, the solvent in Friday morning’s release, is an anesthetic, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Inhaling methylene chloride can cause “drunken behavior” like mental confusion, light-headedness, nausea, vomiting and headache. Continued exposure can lead to unconsciousness or death, and high concentrations of the vapor can cause eye and respiratory irritation, according to the CDC.

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