The cleanup job is growing for Chemtura Canada as reports of property damage continue to come in from Elmira residents, some a considerable distance from the plant, in the wake of last week’s chemical release.
While reports originally indicated that the plume of BLE25 was contained to the properties directly surrounding the Erb Street facility, damage has been reported as far west and south as Flamingo Drive. Company officials now say the impact stretches about 1.5 kilometres in a southwest line from the site.
Even as the scope grows, Chemtura vows to cover the restoration costs.
While the cause of the incident is still under investigation, a preliminary report says some 4,200 kilograms of BLE-25 were released when the heating of a vessel created too much pressure within the container. When pressure increased, a built-in relief device released the material within the vessel. Some of the material escaped through a vent and out into the open air.
“At a certain pressure, the system gives way and that’s when the material was released from a vent into the atmosphere,” said Chemtura’s manager of environment health and safety, Dwight Este. “That’s the design of the system. It prevents the vessel from rupturing.”
The product that showered down on parts of Elmira was a mixture of diphenylamine and acetone used as an antioxidant in the making of some rubber products. Traces of it have been found in the form of small brown or black specks on cars, homes and other buildings. Spots were found at Elmira District Secondary School and John Mahood Public School. Crews also checked St. Teresa, Park Manor and Riverside schools, but the substance wasn’t found at those locations. As a precaution, a cleanup was performed, grass was cut and removed and surface sand and mulch from playground areas was also taken away. New sand and mulch was to be added.
The company said the release of the chemical is not expected to cause a health risk because of the small amount of BLE25 released, but warned against direct skin contact with the substance, which can cause skin, eye and respiratory irritation.
“Thank goodness nobody was hurt,” said Dimitri Makres, vice-president of Chemtura Canada and director of manufacturing in Elmira. “If it gets down to just property cleaning, that’s good.”
Environmental engineering firm Conestoga-Rovers & Associates and Winmar Property Restoration Specialists were called in to Elmira to visit homes and schools on Chemtura’s behalf. Crews are now conducting a door-to-door assessment in the neighbourhood to determine which properties will need to be cleaned. If the substance is found, the company starts a cleanup consisting of wiping down exterior surfaces such as windowsills, door knobs and handles.
For Wyatt Street resident Tim Weigel, the damage was more extensive than something dealt with by a simple cleaning.
“It came down on top of the whole house,” he said. “Our whole backyard was covered in this stuff. It was on the deck chairs, the tables, the barbecue, on my kids’ toys, and in the swimming pool. There wasn’t anything that didn’t get hit.”
Sugar King Drive resident Steven Robbins noticed the black specks on his back deck, which he recently completed after a summer of building.
“It’s on the new deck, in the eaves troughs and all over my truck,” he said. “And it’s on my kids’ wooden playground. You can’t just wipe down wood.”
In addition to the frustration about the short-term inconvenience, Robbins is worried about how he will be compensated for the property damage that may occur down the road.
“They can’t just wipe it off and walk away,” he said. “What happens next year when the UV coating on the deck is gone and the plastic starts to deteriorate? Are they going to replace furniture cushions and playgrounds and other things that have been sprayed? Does this company have enough money to take care of their mistake?”
Weigel voiced similar frustrations.
“They have been out here cleaning for a few days now. The kids aren’t allowed in the backyard or on the lawn.
They told me that things are okay now, but what is okay to them and what is okay to me are probably two different things.”
The chemical BLE25 has been produced at the plant for a number of years, and this is the first time there’s been a release of this kind, officials said. Production of the chemical has been shut down as an investigation continues.
“Right now we are just trying to get everything cleaned and we are bearing all the costs,” said Makres. “Whatever it takes, we want to make it right.”
In addition to their cleanup efforts, officials at Chemtura offered an apology to local residents, both for the inconvenience of the cleanup as well as the length of time it took to alert the township. The release occurred around 3 p.m. on Sept. 27, but the municipality wasn’t notified until 7:41 p.m. It wasn’t until about two hours later that Woolwich put into action its Community Alert Network to notify residents.
“We apologize for taking so long to get the town notified,” said Makres. “When it first happened, we thought the problem was just right here so we went on foot to notify the neighbours we thought were impacted. When we realized how big an incident it was, it did take some time to get the proper response out to the neighbourhood. We are going to address that as part of our further investigation.”
A telephone hotline has been set up, and the company is offering property cleanup services. For all inquiries, or to request an assessment or car cleaning, call the BLE25 hotline at 519-669-1671, ext. 313. Alternatively, residents are welcome to call Waterloo Region Public Health at 519-883-2008, ext. 5147.