Monday’s spill at the Chemtura plant was much smaller in scope and scale than the 2010 release of the same chemical.
In that incident, some 4,200 kilograms of BLE 25, a mixture of diphenylamine and acetone used as an antioxidant in the making of some rubber products, was sprayed over a swath of Elmira. This time, less than 50 kg escaped, most of it caught up in a containment tank. A small amount made its way into the Canagagigue, but it was collected before leaving the site.
Dwight Este, the plant’s environment, health and safety manager, said Tuesday the cause was still under investigation, but the circumstances were different from the incident on Sept. 27, 2010. Production on BLE 25 has been halted pending discovery of what happened and the implementation of processes to avoid a repeat, he added.
The containment system was largely effective – “the designs were successful” – and none of the material made it off the property, said Este.
“Anything that we saw, we were able to catch and vacuum up.”
Booms were placed in the Canagagigue Creek, containing the material that had formed a sheen on the surface of the water. Vacuum trucks collected the material, as was the case on the roadway leading to the creek, he explained.
Unlike the 2010 incident, the company immediately notified Woolwich officials. Given the size of the release, there was nothing for firefighters to deal with, however, said township deputy fire chief Dale Martin.
“Nobody was in any danger at any point,” said Martin, who is the community emergency management coordinator.
“They put booms out in the creek right away. Nothing got off the property. And the wind was in our favour,” he said.
That wasn’t the case in 2010, when the chemical was carried out over Elmira and Chemtura ended up spending some $1.7 million to clean cars, houses and other personal property of nearly 300 affected neighbours in the immediate area, as well as its own property.
In 2010, the material was in an aerosol format, spraying out over the town. This time most of it was in a liquid form that was captured, with a small amount of aerosol that made it into the Canagagigue Creek, said Martin.
Este noted the containment processes were largely successful Monday morning. The company is now inspecting the equipment, with production on hold pending a review of what happened. There’s no timeline for restarting the manufacturing process, he said.
“The process is shut down until we understand the cause.”
Inspectors from the Ministry of the Environment and the Region of Waterloo were on site following the spill. They are pursuing their own reviews.
Chemtura was assessed a $150,000 fine following the 2010 spill. The company also added new layers of protection, including interlocks, changes to the process alert/alarm system to include visual and audio triggers to allow for earlier detection and new staff training. Leading up to the incident in 2010, there were no operators present to heed visual and audible alerts – that practice has been halted.
The company also changed its communications procedures so that there are no delays in alerting the public in the event of a problem at the chemical plant. The company was criticized for the slow process following the BLE releases, taking more than four hours to notify Woolwich Township officials.
“They did the right things this time,” said Martin.