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Cause of chemical release still unknown

The cleanup crews scattered around Elmira are the most visible reminder of last month’s chemical release. But at Chemtura Canada, there’s plenty of work going on behind the scenes as engineers try to piece together just what happened on Sept. 27.

Staff at the plant continue to investigate, with regular meetings being held to deal with the incident, said Stacey Ferris, who is handling communications for the company.

Dwight Este, the plant’s environment, health safety and security manager, said the company is still not sure of the sequence of events that led to the venting into the air of the chemical BLE 25. The compound, a mixture of diphenylamine and acetone used as an antioxidant in the making of some rubber products, ended up showering down on a large swath of the town, covering homes, cars and lawns with brown, tar-like specks.

The cleanup remains a top priority, with restoration teams, engineers and insurance adjusters out meeting with affected residents. The zone follows a 1.5-kilometre swath southwest of the Erb Street facility. The company has pledged to cover the cost of all damage.

With the ongoing investigation, Chemtura is looking to prevent a similar occurrence.
“We haven’t finalized all the corrective actions,” said Este, adding the company “will determine what is the best way to prevent this kind of event in the future.”

Some 4,200 kilograms of BLE 25 were sent into the environment when the heating of a storage container created too much pressure within the vessel. When pressure increased, a built-in relief valve released the material. Some of the material escaped through a vent and out into the open air.

While the system performed as designed – releasing the chemical rather than allowing the vessel to rupture – Chemtura is now looking at whether improvements can be made to the procedure. If changes are deemed necessary, they may also be looked at for the manufacturing process of other chemicals at the plant if applicable, said Este.

The information will also be shared with other Chemtura plants elsewhere, he added.
While the investigation is well along, the company has no timeline for a report.

“We have no specifics at this time. We want to do a thorough job.”

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