A chlorine leak in a rail tanker car at a West Virginia chemical plant caused the evacuation of several nearby communities, as well as closed down two highways that run across the Ohio River. Traffic on the river was also restricted.
The incident occurred at an Axiall Corp. subsidiary (Eagle Natrium) located in Natrium that manufactures chlorine and caustic soda. A spokesperson from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection said the chlorine was in liquid form while stored in the railcar, but turned into a gas upon its release. It is unknown at this time just how much of the chlorine was released, but the same EPA official said the car could have contained “approximately 30,000 gallons” of the toxic chemical.
Axiall reported that at least seven people were treated for exposure, all employees of the plant. Five workers were treated at an on-site medical facility and two others were transported to a nearby hospital. Those two employees were treated and have been released.
There was concern by officials that the leak was spreading throughout a 26-mile radius. The northern section of New Martinsville, W.Va., as well as several Ohio towns – Hannibal, Kent, and Proctor – were evacuated. Both Highway 2 in W.Va. and Highway 7 in Ohio were closed. All industrial plants in the area were also advised to have employees shelter in place.
Exposure to chlorine – even small amounts – can cause serious to severe injuries. Small exposure can burn the eyes, skin, and throat. Coughing or choking can also develop. If a person inhales a large amount of the gas, the lining of the lungs can become inflamed and airways get constricted. High levels of exposure are lethal.
Axiall Corp. has a history of life-threatening incidents at the Natrium plant and other locations the company owns. In December of last year, a tank on an industrial boiler at the plant released steam and ash into the air, injuring 11 employees.
In September 2014, one employee was killed and three other workers seriously injured while replacing a valve in a process line used to transport caustic solution from storage tanks to a loading rack. During the replacement process, all four were sprayed with the caustic solution.
In 2013, in what the company itself said was a “near-catastrophic blowout” at a Louisiana chemical plant, an explosion and fire occurred during a natural gas drilling operation at the location. Almost 3,000 people have sued the company blaming the blast for causing personal injuries and/or property damage.
There have been numerous chlorine leak incidents around the country. One government study cited chlorine releases as the number one cause of victim injuries and evacuations over every other substance. Emergency personnel responding to these events need to know all the dangers involved in a chlorine leak accident. Emergency Film Group’s Chlorine safety training program describes the hazards of chlorine as well as safe work practices and safe response to incidents where chlorine is involved.