The Environmental Protection Agency’s mistake caused a chemical fire and leak at an abandoned Mishawaka, IN, factory.
Contractors working to clean up the old Baycote building left two different chemicals – cyanide and sodium hydrosulfite – too close together, causing them to spontaneously combust, according to the EPA’s incident report.
Sodium hydrosulfite is a highly reactive chemical and the combination is likely what caused the fire to ignite, but the official cause of the fire is still under investigation, the report said.
Clean up continued this Monday inside a building Mishawaka Mayor Dave Wood and St. Joseph County Health Department’s Environmentalist Marc Nelson stopped short of calling an “accident waiting to happen.”
“In my opinion, if all this material had been released and a fire got started that could not have been put out immediately, there could have been a very, very serious release into the community and large scale evacuations and health effects,” Nelson said.
“The building was literally corroding from within,” said Wood. “The roof was collapsing, beams were corroding, tanks were corroding.”
EPA On-Scene Coordinator Paul Atkociunas said some materials were mismarked and very difficult to identify when contractors started clean up earlier this year.
“There were hundreds of containers, in vats and material in pits and sledges. We have the characterization and understanding that there were acids and caustics involved, cyanides present, heavy metals,” he added.
Atkociunas said mistakes like the one EPA contractors made by accidentally putting chemicals too close together are rare, but Nelson said the building is still dangerous.
“The building will not be safe until all the chemicals are removed,” Nelson said. “And EPA is aggressively working at that.”