GALLIPOLIS FERRY, W.Va. — A phosphorous leak and subsequent fire at ICL-IP America on Wednesday resulted in a shelter in place for area residents and halted traffic on W.Va. 2 in both directions.
Mason County Office of Emergency Services Deputy Director RC Faulk reported at approximately 12:08 p.m., the Mason County E-911 Center began receiving “multiple calls” reporting an emergency at the ICL America chemical facility in Gallipolis Ferry. Faulk said these calls contained reports of an “explosion, fire, smoke” and that the community emergency alert siren was sounding at the facility.
Faulk said the Mason County E-911 Center immediately conducted a multi-disciplinary response of emergency responders consisting of Mason County Sheriff’s Department, Mason County Emergency Medical Services, Mason County Emergency Management, Point Pleasant Fire Department, West Virginia State Police and the West Virginia Division of Highways. Additional notifications were made to the Gallia County Ohio 911 Center and Gallia County Emergency Management, CSX Railroad and the United States Coast Guard.
At 12:14 p.m., a shelter in place was issued for the Gallipolis Ferry area, including at Beale Elementary School.
Faulk stated contact was made with Jack Cullen, superintendent of Mason County Schools and the principal at Beale, adding they were already following the shelter in place protocols.
“Any time there is an emergency in the Gallipolis Ferry area, we always have a heightened level of awareness due to the Beale School and the impact that any emergency may have on the staff and students in addition to the community members who live there,” Faulk said.
Officials with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection are investigating the incident, in conjunction with other state and local officials, according to Kelley Gillenwater with WVDEP.
In a statement to the Point Pleasant Register, Gillenwater said as of Wednesday afternoon, ICL-IP reported to WVDEP’s Division of Air Quality, that the leak occurred from a trailer-mounted iso-tank.
She explained: “The material was white phosphorous, which is a raw material used in a process at the plant. The company suspects a gasket failure but we don’t have any details about that yet. The iso-tank, prior to transloading, is heated, which creates additional pressure inside the tank. Therefore, if there is a loose or failed gasket or any sort of integrity issue with the system, a leak could occur. We’ve asked for details about the size of the tank (iso-tank sizes vary) and the amount of phosphorous released but haven’t received that information yet.
The company had a deluge system in place – an automatic sprinkler system. The water released blanketed the material to help keep it from reacting with oxygen, which dampened the fire and cloud.”
Gillenwater added WVDEP were sending a couple of inspectors to the plant on Thursday, one from the Division of Air Quality and one from the Division of Water and Waste Management’s Environmental Enforcement group. WVDEP hopes to know more following that inspection, Gillenwater said.
There were questions from residents about whether or not the “cloud” they saw near the plant posed a health hazard. Gillenwater clarified WVDEP’s role in this regard, saying, that agency only deals with environmental issues and doesn’t have the expertise or jurisdiction to comment on health risks. As of Wednesday evening, ICL Health Safety and Environmental Director Kurt Dailey, said cleanup had been underway and therefore calculations were still being made to determine how much of the chemical was released, adding he couldn’t speculate on the exact amounts but “we don’t expect it to be” a health hazard. Still, Dailey said if someone was feeling ill, of course they should seek medical attention and anyone with any questions should feel free to call the plant.
Faulk said the “all-clear” was given at approximately 1:10 p.m., roughly an hour after Mason County 911 was alerted, and as of Wednesday afternoon. All response units had left the facility and the emergency was deemed over and the incident was closed out by Mason County OES, at 1:32 p.m. on Wednesday.
Faulk added, in addition to fire and emergency medical personnel on scene, standing by at a local command post were the West Virginia Division of Highways and the Mason County Sheriff’s Department conducting traffic operations to close Huntington Road (W.Va. 2) in both directions, the Ohio River marine traffic was suspended via the United States Coast Guard and CSX Railroad halted train traffic in the area due to the emergency so as not to pass a train through a hazardous materials incident, or cut off access to the facility for first responders due to the location of the railroad.
Dailey praised the first responders, employees and community members for an “outstanding job and response” to the situation. Dailey confirmed there were no injuries at the plant during the incident.
In addition to the company’s sirens, which are regularly tested, many in the community and beyond were alerted about the situation by a CodRed alert message distributed for this event. CodeRed is the county-wide emergency alert system that debuted earlier this year. Residents can sign up for these alerts by visiting the Mason County OES website at www.masoncoutyoes.com.
Reach Beth Sergent at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.