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Fire at Pennsylvania chemical plant raises air quality concerns

Posted on by SST

Sending huge plumes of black smoke into the air, the chemical plant fire in Williamsport, Penn., concerned nearby residents about the quality of the air as firefighters fought the blaze. 

The Williamsport Sun-Gazette reported a fire began early in the morning on July 22 at the Lonza, Inc. chemical plant located on 3500 Trenton Ave. Due to the size of the Lonza site and the complexity of the chemical manufacturing process, the fire fortunately started in Building 13 – a non-hazardous manufacturing area of the plant that Lonza officials said posed no harm to the immediate community.

"Chemical manufacturing facilities are one of the worst places to have a fire," said Eric Smith, platoon chief with the city's bureau of fire. "We were very fortunate today."

According to Lonza's website, the facility manufactures chemical products to serve a wide range of industries, including food additives, industrial and household cleaning products, personal care and water treatment. 

"The fire was not involved with any hazardous chemicals," said Marvin Kuzo, the plant manager at Lonza. "The fire posed no threat to the community at large. If there had been a threat to the community, we have a separate siren that would have sounded. We decided not to activate those sirens at that time."

At the time the fire broke out, a full shift of employees were on site at the plant. However, thanks to the facility's internal fire alarm system and deluge sirens, all employees were evacuated safely and no injuries were reported as a result of the incident. That being said, it took firefighters – in combination with Lonza's internal fire brigade – five hours to fully extinguish the fire.

Community shelter order?
A shelter-in-place request was prepared in case the scene of the fire devolved and the situation escalated. However, according to Vince Rundio, the fire platoon chief, the order was never officially activated, but that a citizen listening in over a police scanner posted the information on a social networking site, making it available to the public. He said a second media release was sent to cancel the first order, as it was not needed., the Williamsport Sun-Gazette reported.

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