Plant Restarts after Acid Leak

Wednesday, February 5, 2014 @ 03:02 PM gHale

A small fire Friday afternoon in the insulation of a tank at the Ecolab plant east of Martinsburg, WV, resulted in an acid leak, causing the evacuation of nearby residents and delaying the release of dozens of students from school, officials said.

No one suffered an injury and operations had resumed at the plant by Friday night, emergency and Ecolab officials said.

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Glacial acetic acid leaked from a 10,000-gallon above-ground tank into a concrete-containment area as a result of the fire, but the chemical did not leave the premises, said Berkeley County Sheriff Kenneth Lemaster and company spokesman Roman Blahoski said.

The acid is a main component of vinegar and used to produce cleaning products at the Ecolab facility.

“Could have been worse, just glad it wasn’t,” Lemaster said.

The fire call came in at 1:30 p.m. and it started as a result of a heating system malfunction, according to Blahoski and emergency officials.

Blahoski said there was about 4,000 gallons of acid in the tank when the fire occurred.

The incident prompted emergency responders to close portions of Baker Road to traffic, and nearby residents of the Liberty Run townhouse development ended up instructed by county sheriff’s deputies to leave their homes as a precaution.

The affected homes were downwind from the plant, and Lemaster said authorities were ready to evacuate more areas if the wind changed direction.

The Veterans Affairs Medical Center and a printing plant operated by Quad/Graphics, which is across from Ecolab’s plant, were also on alert.

Hazardous material technicians with the Berkeley County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, along with firefighters from Baker Heights, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, South Berkeley and the Martinsburg fire departments joined Ecolab’s hazardous-materials team at the scene, Lemaster said.

The plant, which employs 160 people over three shifts, ended up evacuated as a precaution, Blahoski said.

“There were no injuries, and no chemicals were released into the environment,” he said.

Manny Arvon of Berkeley County Schools said dozens of students who reside in the affected residential area clustered together, and their parents came to pick them up at school.

School staff stayed with students whose parents were not reachable, and bus drivers volunteered to stay late and take them home when the school district received the all clear from Lemaster, Arvon said.

Several schools in the Martinsburg area felt the impact by the incident, but officials were able to quickly determine which students’ homes ended up directly affected by the emergency, Arvon said.

Capt. Justin Northcraft of the Baker Heights Volunteer Fire Department said it took about 15 minutes to bring the fire under control.

Lemaster said the evacuation came out of concern for residents’ potential airborne exposure to the chemical.

By about 4 p.m., about 2 1/2 hours after the emergency call, authorities gave the all clear, allowing those evacuated to return to their homes.

Blahoski said the situation ended up reported at 1:45 p.m., and was determined to be safe at 3:30 p.m.

The tank will have to replaced, and the acid ended up contaminated as a result of draining into the containment area, Blahoski said. They will dispose of the chemical after transferring it to a tanker trailer, he said.

A plastic tank is the recommended storage container type for the chemical, Blahoski said.

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