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A chemical fire that broke out in the 55,000 square-foot complex on Monday, Sept. 16 brought Canton residents out of their homes and into safety shelters.
Ohio's NBC affiliate WKYC reported the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Organization discovered serious safety violations at the facility shortly before Convoy's termination in 2011. An August 2010 inspection found explosive concentrations of hydrogen sulfide gas and liquid sulfur without any means to detect levels – such as a toxic gas detector – or protect employees from harm. The company was fined $13,200 before an informal settlement was reached in 2011.
Neglect to clean the facility after their departure may have put Canton residents in danger on Monday as the fire was discovered to be releasing sulfur dioxide, a poisonous gas.
Abandoned facility burns
The Canton Rep reports that firefighters were called at 2:03 p.m. with reports of a possible fire. Upon arrival, first responders smelled sulfur in the air. The two Canton firefighters kept their distance and called in a hazardous materials team to assist the effort. Fifteen minutes later, with the unit on scene, a blaze was discovered within the plant. Fire suppression techniques were put into action as "tens of thousands of gallons" of water were poured on the building.
"You can never, never underestimate any type of situations where chemicals are involved," Larry Gray, a spokesperson for Cleveland Fire Department, told WKYC.
Taking precaution, an evacuation was ordered that afternoon for roughly a 20-block area. Thousands were evacuated with at least 12 taken to area hospitals. State and Federal EPA officials were on scene that evening and recorded sulfur dioxide levels of 53 parts per million inside the building. According to health officials, just 30 ppm can be lethal in 10 minutes of exposure. About 135 people spent the night at the Canton Memorial Civic Center shelter.
The blaze continued overnight, reducing the facility to rubble by morning.
"Nothing ever happens around here like that, so this was a big shock," local resident Gene Kelly explained to the Canton Rep.
As of yet, there has been no confirmation if Convoy's safety violations triggered the fire. Local and state officials are currently investigating what the the conditions may have been inside the abandoned facility.
Industrial Safety News brought to you by Safety Systems Technology, Inc., leaders in fire and gas detection.