5 Things To Know About the Chester Chemical Spill

Jan 19, 2016

East Liverpool River-Rail Terminal Co. in Columbiana County, Ohio, across from Chester, West Virginia.
Credit East Liverpool River-Rail Terminal Co. Facebook page

On Friday, Jan. 15, emergency officials confirmed a chemical leak into the Ohio River in the area of Chester, West Virginia and East Liverpool, Ohio. The leak came from East Liverpool River-Rail Terminal Co.

1. Spill was caught by a company employee within moments of the spill.

Travis Orr is the terminal manager at East Liverpool River-Rail Terminal Co. He said he heard a crash early Friday morning around 8:15 a.m., moments after a tanker truck began loading the chemical styrene out of a tank at the facility. Upon exploring the scene, he discovered that valves weren’t properly in place and styrene, which Orr describes as a chemical that looks like liquid styrofoam, was spilling across the floor into facility storm drains. His employee was able to shut the operation down.

2. An estimated 50 or 60 gallons of styrene spilled.

The tank holds as much as 400,000 gallons of product, but Orr said it was almost empty Friday, Jan. 15, registering only about 22,675 gallons. He said it’s almost impossible to know exactly how much of the chemical was released but he and other responding officials guess it couldn’t have been more than 50 or 60 gallons - most of which never made it to the river.

East Liverpool Fire Department Chief Bill Jones explained that an earthen dike behind the facility was designed as secondary containment to hold any rainwater or spills until it could be tested and cleaned or released into the river. But a faulty valve allowed the the product to leak through into the Ohio.

The leak was downstream of both East Liverpool’s and Chester’s public water intakes. Water companies were notified and took precautionary measures, nevertheless.

3. 8 agencies responded.

Orr followed procedures after he found the leak. He called the National Response Center, the Coast Guard, and then Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency. Area offices of emergency management were notified, which, in turn, notified local authorities.

East Liverpool Fire Chief Jones said the company put absorbent booms in the river but that they were inadequate. The fire department then used containment booms to keep the chemical from dispersing downstream.

Orr hired Weavertown Environmental Group to cleanup the mess. Vacuum trucks cleaned the sheen off the water, the storm drain, and cleaned the bank of the river.

Responding on the scene:

  • West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection
  • Ohio Environmental Protection Agency
  • U.S. Coast Guard
  • Hancock Office of Emergency Management
  • Columbiana County Office of Emergency Management
  • Chester City personnel
  • East Liverpool Fire Department’s regional HAZMAT team comprised of West Virginia and Ohio residents
  • Weavertown Environmental Group

 

4. Ramifications so far...

Orr said no citations were issued on site and he hasn’t received any so far. He said both his employee and the truck driver were negligent and responsible for the spill. The employee of the East Liverpool River-Rail Terminal Co. lost his job as a result.

Fire Chief Jones said while he had reservations about the company's emergency plan - he was pleased at how well organizations worked together across state borders to contain and clean up the spill. Jones said he spoke with Orr at the company to modify emergency plans so that local authorities would be second on the call-list, and verified that a checklist for the procedure of loading chemicals into tankers would be reinstated at the facility.

 

5. What is styrene?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, styrene is used to produce plastics and resins.

Health Effects:

  • Acute (short term) exposure in humans results in respiratory effects, such as mucous membrane irritation, eye irritation, and gastrointestinal effects. (1,2)
  • Tests involving acute exposure of rats and mice have shown styrene to have low to moderate toxicity by inhalation and oral exposure. (3)
  • Chronic exposure to styrene in humans results in effects on the CNS, with symptoms such as headache, fatigue, weakness, depression, CNS dysfunction (reaction time, memory, visuomotor speed and accuracy, intellectual function), and hearing loss, peripheral neuropathy, minor effects on some kidney enzyme functions and on the blood. (1-3)
  • Animal studies have reported effects on the CNS, liver, kidney, and eye and nasal irritation from inhalation exposure to styrene. (1)
  • Liver, blood, kidney, and stomach effects have been observed in animals following chronic oral exposure. (5)

Ohio is the sixth-largest chemical producing state in the country, and West Virginia the 24th, with a combined $8 billion in products sold to customers around the world, according to the American Chemistry Council.