Chlorine leaks in Missouri

BY SUSAN KIM | FESTUS, Mo. | August 14, 2002

"During the transfer from the railcar to the storage tank, the gas was released."

—Buck Katt

A chlorine gas leak in rural eastern Missouri forced evacuation of at least 100 people and sent several to the hospital, according to the Missouri Emergency Management Agency (MEMA).

The leak occurred when a train was making its monthly delivery of chlorine gas to a chemical plant near U.S. Highway 61, one mile south of the city of Festus, Mo.

The plant is owned by DPC Enterprises, according to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. DPC is a chemical distribution and production company.

“During the transfer from the railcar to the storage tank, the gas was released,” said Buck Katt, deputy director of MEMA.

Investigation crews were still unsure Wednesday afternoon what caused the leak.

Jefferson County emergency management teams responded, setting up a mobile command post and activating a hazardous materials team. Several people made their way to Jefferson County Memorial Hospital complaining of breathing problems. About a dozen employees at the DPC plant were immediately evacuated.

Local pastors were visiting hospitalized residents and offering support for families.

“The leak is now contained,” said Katt Wednesday afternoon. But residents remained evacuated while waiting for the gas to dissipate. “Chlorine still remains in the area but things are as under control as they could be at this time.”

Chlorine gas, heavier than air, eventually sinks to the ground. Commonly used to disinfect drinking water, chlorine vapors can irritate the lungs, posing a potentially fatal risk for people who suffer from asthma and other lung problems.

The city of Festus – about 35 miles south of St. Louis – was not evacuated, though some Festus residents said they were glued to their radios for news. “We’re three miles from there so we were paying attention all afternoon,” said resident LaDonna Nausley from where she was working as a secretary at the Faith Baptist Church. “We’re glad everything’s capped off now.

“We’re used to floods, not this,” she added. “We’re right near the Mississippi River.”

U.S. Highway 61 remained closed Wednesday afternoon.

Representatives from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Agency were on the scene as well.

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