UPDATE @ 1:10 p.m. Oct. 20:
West Chester Fire Chief Rick Prinz said the 60,000 pounds of recycled lime that caused an evacuation of area businesses was the result of worker error.
SES is an environmental clean-up company that goes from contract to contract picking up waste water and bringing it back to its facility, where it pours it into a “very large trench,” Prinz said.
“They slowly mix lime into it to help neutralize that water and slowly make it a kind of a slurry, more of a solid, so they can put it into a truck and transport it to Rumpke for disposal,” he said. “In this particular instance, the driver of this truck that was holding the lime was dumping the lime into the pit and was distracted for whatever reason, I don’t know, but then inadvertently dumped 60,000 pounds all at one time instead of the small amount that they normally do.”
The “slightly alkolotic” substance is a danger in the powdered form, as it exists in bulk, Prinz said. When dumped in bulk, the substance can become an irritant to a person’s eyes, respiratory tract and skin.
“What happens when it hits the atmosphere and in contact with the ground, it reacts with the moisture in the air and on the ground and it starts a heating process, which gives off steam,” he said.
That’s precisely around 4:48 p.m when emergency dispatchers received a call about “a chemical smell in the air with a cloud.”
“We had initial concerns that the cloud itself could be acidic, that’s why we initially had a shelter-in-place message put out because we wanted to protect those around the area to stay inside so they’re not breathing this steam in,” he said.
Prinz said three people self-reported to the hospital that they developed “some throat irritation” after driving or walking through the cloud.
SES cleaned up its own spill, recovering the lime to use it in its process, Prinz said.
However, the West Chester Fire Department had to intervene, because the substance could continue to give off steam for up to two weeks after the spill based on the amount of product spilled, he said. Instead, after the initial “protect in place” order, the fire department issued a reverse 911 evacuation of area businesses as preventative measure and went from business to business as an extra precaution. It then deluged the pile of lime for about 40 minutes with “copious amounts of water” to expedite the steaming process.
“Later on into the incident when we were able to measure the PH of the steam, we found out that the steam thankfully was neutral, so it was not alkolotic, but we still had concerns that if you were in the cloud that you could develop eye, nose, throat irritations,” Prinz said.
The affected area was from Duff Drive to International, from International to East Crescentville Road, from East Crescentville Road to Ohio 747 and from Ohio 747 back to Duff Drive. The evacuated area consisted of Joseph James Drive, Commerce Park and a portion of Duff Drive.
The fire department cleared the scene at 10:49 p.m., he said.
Anyone who experiences eye, throat or skin irritation as a result of the incident should seek medical attention, Prinz said.
SES has not yet returned a call from this news outlet seeking comment.
UPDATE @ 9:26 p.m. Oct. 19, 2016:
Barricades have been removed from the roads and fire crews have all left the scene of the chemical spill in West Chester Twp., according to our news crew that was at the scene.
UPDATE @ 6:32 p.m.:
Duff Drive businesses are also being evacuated between Commerce Park to State Route 747, according to the township.
UPDATE @ 6:20 p.m.:
Commerce Park Drive is closed to traffic between Duff and Crescentville due to the chemical spill and clean-up efforts, according to officials.
Businesses on Commerce Drive are being evacuated “for the safety of all involved,” Wilson said.
The West Chester Fire Department is on the scene of a chemical lime spill at a company on Joseph James Drive, off Duff Drive.
The spill at SES has created a dust cloud in the area, according to Barb Wilson, township spokeswoman.
The fire department is encouraging those in the area to remain indoors with windows and doors closed and HVAC systems turned off.
Lime can cause skin and eye irritation and can cause respiratory issues.
This affects properties in the area of south of Muhlhauser to Crescentville, between State Route 747 and International, but anyone in that vicinity should use caution, according to Wilson.