No Injuries Reported After Explosions Rock Detroit-Area Chemical Plant

A spectacular series of blasts at a chemical recycling plant in Romulus, Mich., lit up the night sky with 300-foot-high flames, rattled nearby residents' homes and prompted an evacuation order in the Detroit suburb Tuesday night.

Even though the blasts produced a raging fire that engulfed much of the plant and still had not been extinguished as of Wednesday morning, no serious injuries were reported.

The blasts occurred at a plant owned by EQ Resource Recovery Inc., which, according to its Web site, "specializes in fuel blending, chemical recycling, recoverable petroleum products, oil recycling and nonhazardous wastewater treatment services."

EQ Resource Recovery Director of Communications Dan Gilbert said eight people were working during a "normal" second shift on the night of Aug. 9. He said around 9:15 p.m. the workers "heard alarms, smelled a solvent smell and evacuated the site according to our site evacuation plan."

Gilbert said the workers at the time of the incident were recycling spent aircraft de-icing fluid - propylene glycol and a purge solvent used in industrial painting applications.

The cause of the blasts has not been determined, Gilbert told Occupational Hazards.com.

"We really haven't been able to get on site and do an in-depth evaluation and try to figure out what happened and why," Gilbert said. "The local hazmat team is still in control of the site. As soon as they give us the green light to go on site, we have our own emergency response group that's ready to go in and start assessing and cleaning up."

There have been concerns that the fire might cause the release of hazardous fumes, and the Detroit Free Press said some residents described a "suffocating chlorine scent emanating from the chemical plant." But Gilbert said EPA, which is on site, has not detected "anything they're concerned about in the air."

EQ Resource Recovery's Web site says the plant is licensed to accept, among other things, "over 400 EPA waste codes, including some of the more difficult waste streams such as high boiling solvents, lean waters and non-dispersible solids."

The Detroit Free Press is reporting that nine local residents sought treatment at Oakwood Annapolis Hospital in nearby Wayne for exposure to fumes. The newspaper added that none of the nine residents were immediately admitted to the hospital.

The incident forced the evacuations of thousands of residents, according to the newspaper.

U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) spokesperson Daniel Horowitz said CSB officials have been monitoring the incident, but the agency likely will not send an investigation team to Romulus. Horowitz noted that the agency is dedicating most of its resources to its investigation of the March 23 BP explosion in Texas City, Texas.

Romulus, which is home to Detroit Metro Airport, is about 30 minutes from Detroit.

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