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Small leak triggers Campbell evacuation


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POSTED: Saturday, May 23, 2009
                       
This story has been corrected.  See below.

BEI Hawaii is sending a chlorine cylinder back to its manufacturer to determine what caused a small leak yesterday in the steel tank at its chemical plant in Campbell Industrial Park, prompting a large evacuation of the area.

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The Fire Department responded to a 1:30 p.m. call from BEI and within an hour evacuated businesses, elementary schools and homes within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant at 91-150 Kaomi Loop, including about 40 to 50 homes in Honokai Hale, said fire Capt. Earle Kealoha.

No one complained of any respiratory or other medical problems, Kealoha said.

The action was precautionary, he said. Had there been a large release of chlorine or had the tank ruptured, the liquid chlorine would have turned into a chlorine gas, which in a worst-case scenario could have blown as far mauka as Makakilo. Instead, the winds were blowing offshore yesterday.

Chlorine is not flammable, but chlorine gas is a toxic, caustic gas which can cause respiratory problems if inhaled and can be fatal, Kealoha said.

The 140-gallon pressurized tank was three-quarters filled with liquid chlorine, and a tiny amount leaked from the plugs, said Jim Mistysin, BEI Hawaii vice president of distribution.

When an employee noticed a 1- to 1 1/2 -inch bulge in the cylinder and corrosion around the safety valves, BEI called the Fire Department for assistance, said Mistysin.

The leak of possibly a pound of the product combined with moisture in the air created a small amount of hydrochloric acid, he said.

;[Preview]  Chemical Spill Ties Up Rush Hour Traffic
 

A chemical spill sparks evacuations and major traffic around Campbell Industrial Park.

Watch ]

 

BEI workers capped and sealed the plugs, Mistysin said. The chlorine was fed into a tank containing caustic soda and water, creating bleach for commercial use, which is what the chlorine is used to produce, he said.

The tank is 2 1/2 feet in diameter and 8 feet long and weighs a ton.

About 28 firefighters responded, including two hazardous-materials teams and two other companies.

At the Chevron refinery, HPOWER plant and AES Hawaii's co-generation plant, essential workers were allowed to remain working.

Streets were reopened at 5:30 p.m.

Kale Grace, a maintenance supervisor at Yett Property Management on Hanua Street, was told by police that there might be an explosion and that residents on Kaomi Loop would be evacuated.

“;I was kind of frantic,”; Grace said.

He alerted tenants that could not hear the order, barging into a psychiatrist's session with a patient.

“;She was excited because I broke in on her,”; he said.

Then he drove off. As the last one to leave the property, he was stuck for about 20 minutes in the surge of cars leaving Campbell Industrial Park.

“;There were a lot of cars,”; he said. “;Everybody was trying to rush out. Everybody was panicked.”;

Star-Bulletin reporter Rob Shikina contributed to this report.

 

Chlorine helps but also can harm

One of the most commonly manufactured chemicals in the U.S., chlorine is used as a bleach in manufacturing and to make pesticides, rubber and solvents. Other uses are to kill bacteria in drinking water and swimming pools.

While nonflammable, chlorine can react explosively with other chemicals.

Liquid chlorine will turn into a gas that spreads quickly and can be identified by its odor, similar to bleach.

When coming into contact with moist tissue such as the eyes or lungs, chlorine gas creates an acid that can harmful. In World War I it was used as a choking agent.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

 

BEI Hawaii had big spill in 1999

Founded in 1890, BEI Hawaii is the state's largest distributor of chemicals, fertilizers and agricultural products, according to its Web site.

BEI Hawaii was created by Brewer Environmental Industries LLC—formerly Brewer Chemical Co.—in 2001 and has facilities on Oahu, Kauai, Maui and the Big Island.

BEI Hawaii's Kaomi Loop location was the site of a sulfuric acid spill on Thanksgiving day in 1999—the largest chemical spill in Hawaii history.

In that spill, corrosion at the bottom of a 300-ton acid storage tank led to 3,900 gallons of sulfuric acid entering the environment. No one was hurt in that spill.

In 2001, Brewer Environmental Industries paid nearly $236,000 in fines for that spill and other violations, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA determined BEI failed to immediately report the acid spill.

Star-Bulletin staff

 

 

               

     

 

CORRECTION

       

Friday, May 29, 2009

       

The second photo in the attached gallery was taken by Craig Kojima. Originally, the caption mistakenly attributed it to Leila Fujimori.