Chemical Waste Fire Out – Again

Thursday, June 27, 2013 @ 06:06 PM gHale

Fire crews extinguished the rekindle of a Monday afternoon fire at a chemical waste disposal facility in Plainwell, MI.

Around 11:30 p.m. Monday, some of the hot spots rekindled, resulting in 25 to 30 explosions and smoke seen from 300 yards away. Firefighters put out the blaze again on Tuesday.

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Officials fear that pending rain could interact with the water-reactive chemicals at Drug & Laboratory Disposal, Inc., Plainwell, MI, and result in the products burning and more explosions.

The Environmental Protection Agency, as well as Young’s Environmental Cleanup from Muskegon, arrived at the scene Tuesday to determine a strategy on how to deal with those chemicals.

Air-quality tests taken every hour show everything being normal, and the Plainwell Department of Public Safety said there is no danger.

A precautionary evacuation was back into effect late Monday night for residences a quarter mile northeast of the facility. Plainwell Department of Public Safety officials lifted the evacuation order at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Three evacuated residents spent Monday night at Plainwell High School.

Businesses within a quarter mile of the scene remained closed Tuesday along with some nearby streets.

Residents said they heard as many as six explosions coming from the original fire Monday afternoon at the chemical waste disposal facility.

The fire sparked around 3 p.m. at the facility that disposes of academic, commercial and medical chemical waste.

The plant’s owner and employees told the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) they were using chemicals to neutralize some acid-based compounds, which is a process that can generate a tremendous amount of heat. That is when the fire started. The fire then spread to a wooden stairwell, and as it burned it caused quite a bit of smoke, employees said.

While they were trying to douse the flames, employees told the DEQ some fire extinguishers ended up dropped near the flames, which caused them to explode due to the heat.

All of the businesses in the industrial area within 100 yards of the site ended up evacuated, said Allegan County Emergency Management Director Scott Corbin.

Multiple fire crews responded and the fire was safely contained by 5:30 p.m.

“The fire was contained rather quickly. One of the problems you have with this place, of course, is there are many, many chemicals here,” said Plainwell Department of Public Safety Sgt. David Rantz.

Rantz said the challenge for firefighters was when a water pipe burst over reactive chemicals.

“So at that point we pulled everybody out. Removed everybody. We told Dispatch there should be about a quarter-mile evacuation,” he said.

Officials temporarily evacuated several residences in that area. About five hours later, Allegan County Central Dispatch said the evacuation ended, and residents could return home.

Other residents nearby ended up asked to close their doors and windows, Emergency Management Director Corbin said.

There were no reports of serious injuries. All 50 people who work at the disposal site ended up accounted for and safe, Plainwell City Manager Eric Wilson said.

Firefighters found barrels containing some unknown chemicals. Ottawa County and Battle Creek Police Department hazmat teams made sure all chemicals in the plant are secure.

Allegan County Emergency Management officials said Drug & Laboratory Disposal, Inc. has hired a private firm to help mitigate any hazardous materials situation that may still exist. That firm will remain on the scene until they get an all-clear from the DEQ, which could take several days.

Drug & Laboratory Disposal, Inc. released this statement:

“Drug & Laboratory Disposal, Inc. experienced a fire at its facility in Plainwell, MI today. Thanks to the quick and professional response of the emergency crews and our staff, the fire was contained to a limited portion of our processing area. We are grateful that no one was injured during this incident. We train regularly to handle emergency situations such as this. Our procedures worked as designed and all personnel were evacuated quickly from the facility. An investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing in cooperation with the appropriate authorities. We do not anticipate a break in service to our customers. We appreciate the support of our neighbors and surrounding community and apologize for any inconvenience this incident has caused.”

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