Agencies burning off chemical at site of recent Akron explosion

By Jim Mackinnon and Betty Lin-Fisher - Akron Beacon Journal (TNS)

AKRON — Local and state agencies are working with an Akron company to slowly burn off a chemical at the site of last month’s massive explosion and fire on West Emerling Avenue.

The Akron Fire Department supervised the controlled burning that began Wednesday afternoon at the Emerald Performance Materials plant.

The chemical, butadiene, which is used at the South Akron plant, is being removed and then burned in a process that will take 24 to 48 hours, the fire department said. Under a best-case scenario, the burn could last 12 hours.

The controlled burn involves disposing of three tanks of the chemical. A fire department spokeswoman on Wednesday said she was unsure much butadiene will be burned.

No evacuations are necessary, according to the Akron Fire Department.

“No one is confined to their home,” fire department spokeswoman Sierjie Lash said.

An explosion is possible during the burn, “but we have fire personnel on scene and so many safety personnel on scene if there is any kind of fire incident,” Lash said

At least one nearby resident wasn’t convinced she was safe.

Christine Meloy, who lives in one of only two houses on Emerling Avenue down the street from the plant, said she was upset that neighbors were not notified of the controlled burn by the city, fire department or company officials.

“We’re two minutes up from this company and they can’t come and say anything? They can’t give us a sense of everything is going to be OK?” asked Meloy, who said she first heard about the controlled burn from a text from a relative. Meloy did not know the details until informed by a reporter.

Lash, however, said she left notes including her phone number several times at Meloy’s house, as well as at several nearby properties.

“I completely understand her frustrations,” Lash said. “I left my phone number to call with questions or concerns.”

Meloy was at home during the July 18 explosion watching her brother’s grandchildren, ages 8 and 15, when they heard the boom and saw the billows of smoke and fire.

The explosion and fire last month severely damaged the plant, with the surrounding industrial neighborhood evacuated. There were no injuries.

City officials this week said an ongoing investigation has not determined what caused the fire. There have been multiple public safety and health violations documented at the plant going back years by local and state inspectors.

Meloy said the kids were not at her house on Wednesday and called it a “blessing in disguise.” She is arranging for the kids to not come on Thursday, either, but said that will hurt her income. She also had to call an Uber the day of the explosion to evacuate the area.

Meloy decided to leave her house Wednesday afternoon before the burn was scheduled to begin.

“I am not here as I believe it necessary to inconveniently have to evacuate my home one again!” Meloy wrote in a letter posted on her door Wednesday afternoon.

While no evacuations are needed, the public is being prevented from getting close to the burn site, Lash said.

A private security company were blocking the road near Emerald Performance on Wednesday afternoon to keep anyone from entering the property.

Butadiene is a colorless gas that is a known human carcinogen, according to the industry group American Chemistry Council. Along with being used in manufacturing, the gas also is produced by cigarettes and combustible engines.

The plan to dispose of butadiene using a controlled burn was reviewed by Akron Air Quality, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Akron Fire Department and the U.S. EPA, according to the fire department.

People in the area might see smoke coming from the Emerald Performance location. People also may see a glow from the burn in the evening.

Emergency personnel were at the site. Air quality is being monitored throughout the entire operation, the fire department said.

“They have several sites monitoring the air — upwind and downwind — making sure the air quality is still safe for our residents,” Lash said.

Officials also are monitoring to make sure “nothing gets in the water system,” she said.

Emerald Performance Materials traces its history to BFGoodrich. The company is privately held and based in Washington state. It supplies chemicals to the aerospace, cosmetic, paint, food and other industries.

By Jim Mackinnon and Betty Lin-Fisher

Akron Beacon Journal (TNS)

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