Society

Major Chemical Spill In Kansas Forces Evacuations

| by Nik Bonopartis

Thousands were told to stay indoors and at least 34 people were hospitalized after a chemical accident sent plumes of harmful fog into the air about 50 miles north of Kansas City.

The accident happened on Oct. 21 at MGP Ingredients Inc. in Atchison, Kansas, a city of 11,000 people. The leak was caused by an “inadvertent” mixture of sodium hypocholorite and sulfuric acid, city manager Trey Cocking told the Kansas City Star.

The chemical reaction from the 8 a.m. accident left a harmful fog above the immediate area, and local authorities told people to stay indoors, whether in their homes or workplaces, KSHB reported.

Another 34 people were hospitalized for respiratory problems related to the chemical leak, but the symptoms weren't serious. Five of the hospitalized people were city employees.

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The local middle- and high-schools were evacuated as well as a nearby college, the city said.

Dr. Bill Barkman, a pulmonologist at the University of Kansas Medical Hospital, said most people would feel symptoms immediately or within a few hours, and the chemical mixture -- as reported by MGP Ingredients -- shouldn't cause long-term problems.

"The levels are high enough that it's causing irritation...a burning sensation," Barkman told KSHB. "At low levels you're going to feel that in the eye and throat, as it gets higher you're going to feel it deeper in the lungs. And if you've had a really serious exposure you'll get really short of breath."

However, Barkman also cautioned that the situation could change if MGP hasn't been forthcoming with the types of chemicals that were released in the accident.

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By the afternoon, warnings were lifted and the city told residents they could venture outside. The National Weather Service also created a map showing where the chemical fog would drift as it was pushed by winds away from Atchison.

MGP describes itself as "the largest U.S. producer of specialty wheat proteins and starches," as well as a supplier of distilled spirits and industrial alcohol. The company produces gin, vodka and rye whiskey at the Atchison facility, and produces vinegar, pharmaceuticals, and industrial alcohol for use in household cleaning products.

The chemical leak was the second industrial accident for MGP this year. In February, an explosion punched a hole in the wall of a production warehouse, according to the local News-Press.

The plant also sustained explosions in 2006 and 2002. The 2002 accident, which was the result of escaping vapors from a distillery hatch, destroyed the plant's distillery facilities, rendering some $27 million in damage, according to Ethanol Producer Magazine.

Sources: KSHB, Kansas City Star, Ethanol Producer Magazine, News-Press / Photo credit: Yortw/Flickr

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