One man died after a chlorine leak Wednesday at Pacific Steel and Recycling in Spokane, WA, that left at least 10 people injured, eight critically, officials said.
Most of those transported to area hospitals suffered from respiratory issues, according to the Spokane Police Department.
Employees at the recycling center were working with a steel barrel when it punctured and a “yellow vapor” started coming out. Authorities said those immediately around the barrel were affected, and then the wind carried it outside.
SPD leaders initially identified the chemical as arsenic trichloride, a highly dangerous colorless chemical.
Brian Schaeffer of the Spokane Fire Department described the vapor as “compressed chlorine gases” from a steel cylinder.
A level two evacuation ended up ordered by police, with a perimeter of four blocks set up from the site of the exposure. Officials asked Burlington Northern to halt train traffic through the area. Later Wednesday evening the evacuations lifted for the area, with the exception of the recycling plant.
Schaeffer said he did not believe the workers knew there was a toxic chemical in the barrel inside their plant.
Workers said it is rare for them to have a chemical like chlorine gas inside the facility and they didn’t not know immediately which supplier sent it. No one has been able to go inside the facility to retrieve records of the shipment.
Chlorine can be dangerous in high quantities or through prolonged exposure. A representative at Pacific Steel said three of their workers hospitalized had dramatically improved by Friday afternoon. One of their employees that was in intensive care ended up released from the hospital.
About 20 workers at the nearby Spokane Streets Department also ended up affected by the vapors, SPD officials said.
Hazmat crews set up showers to decontaminate all those exposed. They urged anyone worried about the gas to call the fire department.
“We would want to hear from them (worried residents) so we can send the hazmat team in there to do some monitoring and put together a plan to help them continue with their business,” said fire department representatives.
Pacific, which began as a one-man hides- and fur-trading business, is now an employee-owned corporation with 46 branch offices in Washington, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, Colorado, Montana, and Alberta, Canada, according to its website.