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A chemical company in Illinois sent the entire town of Seward, Ill., running as hazardous chemicals from an explosion and fire led to an evacuation.
As reported in the Rockford Register Star, the Nova-Kem LLC explosion and fire that destroyed the manufacturing facility were likely caused by a malfunctioning valve, although a pending investigation is underway. The fire began around 12:30 p.m. June 2, sending chemical-laden smoke into the air, potentially compromising the health of Seward's 300 residents.
Maury Daubs, a contractor who worked for Nova-Kem, noted that the plant was significantly damaged as a result of the fire. Fortunately, a storage tank holding highly-flammable chlorine just 60 yards from the blaze remained intact.
According to Seward's CBS affiliate WIFR, the plant produced hexachlorodisilane – a colorless, water-reactive chemical used to manufacture memory devices and semi-conductors for electronic equipment. It is because of this that when the Pecatonica Fire Protection District firefighters arrived on the scene, along with 20 other fire and rescue units, they were unable to use water to douse the flames. In fact, using water would have increased the volatility of the fire.
Nova-Kem did not have an automated dry-chemical fire suppression system installed. Such a system may have been able to contain or extinguish the fire before it roared out of control, consuming all of the plant and all of its hexachlorodisilane.
EPA officials on site to determine air quality
Residents were able to return to their homes June 3 at 3 p.m. after U.S. Environmental Protection Agency analysts confirmed that no toxic gases were still present and that the air quality was safe. However, the EPA is continuing to test water and soil samples in the area.
As reported by The Associated Press, the Illinois EPA approached Attorney General Lisa Madigan to pursue an injunction against Nova-Kem to produce a complete list of chemicals used at the plant, as well as investigate and clean up pollution hazards and environmental violations caused by the chemical explosion.
In 2007, Seward was evacuated after a semitrailer truck carrying anhydrous ammonia leaked. Locals reported plants turning black in the effected area. A number of firefighters and police officers received medical care for inhaling toxic fumes though no injuries were reported among residents, according to the Rockford Register.
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