YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – It was quiet Monday evening at the Youngstown wastewater treatment plant on Poland Avenue, but it was a very different scene around 9:15 a.m., shortly after liquid chlorine started leaking from a pipe.
The Himrod Avenue Expressway between U.S. Route 62 and Interstate 680 and the section of Poland Avenue in front of the plant, between Gibson Street and Powers Way, will be closed until 8 a.m. Tuesday.
Shortly after 9 a.m. Monday, workers evacuated the facility after potentially hazardous liquid chlorine began leaking from a valve as workers were trying to switch one-ton tanks of the chemical, which is used in the water treatment process. Firefighters and HazMat crews responded quickly, put on protective gear and got inside and shut off the leak, but that was not the end.
“Unfortunately, they lost about 500 pounds of liquid chlorine that remained in the building, that did not get mixed off, so we are going to have to slowly allow the air exchangers within that building to mix it with air and release it back into the environment,” Youngstown Fire Department Battalion Chief Sil Caggiano said.
What complicated the problem is that liquid chlorine freezes when it is exposed to the air and firefighters found a lot of what had leaked had frozen in large puddles on the floor of the building rather than evaporating into the atmosphere. They now have to wait for the chemical to warm up and then dissipate.
And until that happens, firefighters opted to close both Poland Avenue and the nearby Expressway, as well as the businesses inside the nearby Performance Place Industrial Park, as precautions.
Officials have said that, barring drastic change, there is no public health risk from the chlorine leak at the Youngstown wastewater treatment plant. It was contained around 11:45 a.m.
Crews on the scene were initially worried about wind blowing the gas towards the east and northeast and sent a truck with a measuring device to the east side of the Mahoning River to check for the presence of chlorine.
Fire officials are warning citizens to avoid the area around the plant and shelter in place, with doors and windows closed, unless notified otherwise.
Chlorine can cause irritation of the lungs and eyes, as well as difficulty breathing. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has put together a fact sheet on chlorine.
More video – Chlorine gas: Health effects
Staff from St. Elizabeth Health Center and Youngstown police assisted firefighters and Hazmat crews at the scene.