ROCHESTER, Pa. (KDKA) — Residents in the Rochester area were asked twice to close all windows and doors after a chlorine gas leak and fires in the area. Two shelter in places have been in effect in the Rochester area, but both have been lifted.
According to Rochester Fire Chief Michael Mamone, Department of Environmental Protection crews left an abandoned building on Sycamore Street in Rochester around 6 Friday evening. Then around 9:00 p.m., they got calls of smoke.
When they got there, they found a gas leak that became flames.
They put up a five-mile shelter in place order. The only chemical they knew was in the building was chlorine. Several roads and bridges including Route 65 were closed.
“It is a very, very complex situation that you don’t act upon right away. We try to gather all the facts that we can,” Chief Mamone said.
It was tricky because the building was once a pool supply store, so it has several chemicals inside including chlorine.
The D.E.P. said in a statement.
“Just before 10 PM on July 12, 2019, DEP received notification from first responders of a fire at the site. DEP, HSCA contractors, multiple fire departments, and Beaver County HAZMAT responded.
DEP believes an unknown reaction of materials in the building triggered the fire and chlorine release. The fire has been extinguished and chlorine plume knocked down, but the building is unstable and DEP believes there are additional chemicals spilled inside. DEP will be back on site on Monday to resume remediation.
On July 1, 2019, DEP initiated a prompt interim response under the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (HSCA) for the Pool Doctor – Beaver Alkali Products Site in Rochester, Beaver County.
The buildings were dilapidated with collapsing roofs. There were many leaking drums of unknown substances associated with a swimming pool chemical business and laboratory on site. One of the buildings almost completely collapsed the week of June 24, 2019 and DEP determined a threat to human health and the environment from the ongoing release of materials and risk to persons entering the buildings, which prompted DEP’s response.
DEP’s contractors had been working to make the buildings safe for entry so the chemicals could be sampled, properly disposed of and prevented from further migrating off the site or near the river. DEP had also been in contact with local officials and emergency services on their concerns at the property.”
The fire was put out with no injuries and all the roads reopened and the shelter in place was lifted just as the sun started to come up.
Around 9 a.m. another fire started. This time a few yards away from the building in a dumpster that had chemicals in it.
Chief Mamone believes a chemical reaction started the fire. It caused another five-mile shelter in place and road closures.
“We basically had an hour and half, two hours break and then we were back at it,” Chief Mamone said.
According to Chief Mamone, there is no paper trail of what is stored in the building. It has sat vacant for at least 5 years he said.
His crews are working with the D.E.P. to make sure there are no more fires at the site.
“We got some contractors on site that are experts, and we’re going to look at developing a plan of how we make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said.
Chief Mamone said there were no injuries from the second fire. At this time the shelter in place is lifted and all the roads are reopened. He said no chemicals were detected in the air outside of the fire zone.
The D.E.P. sent an update to their statement this afternoon.
“At a minimum, DEP will have a 24/7 presence on the site through the weekend. Equipment and machinery are en route and DEP and its contractor are working to stabilize the substances on site to prevent further chemical reactions. Despite the lifting of the shelter in place directives, people, particularly sensitive populations in the area, may continue to notice a chlorine odor.”