A portion of residents in southern Bergen County, North Jersey, were forced to shelter-in-place and shut off their air conditioning units after a fire and chlorine leak at a chemical plant Thursday left two people injured.
Firefighters initially responded to a chemical reaction involving chlorine, which leaked into the air, at the Diamond Chemical Company on East Union Avenue, near Route 17, in East Rutherford, said borough Fire Chief David Alberta.
However, during an evacuation of the facility, a machine was left running and overheated, sparking a fire in a different area of the building.
“We were trying to shut down the power as soon as possible and unfortunately another issue came about,” the fire chief said.
Firefighters brought the incident under control and Bergen County hazardous materials teams found the air quality was safe, officials said.
“The good news here is that there is no detection of anything volatile and the air is clear and clean. The reaction has stopped inside,” said Bergen County Executive James Tedesco.
Two people suffered unspecified minor injuries, according to the county executive.
Thomas Longo, with Bergen County’s Office of Environmental Health, said the chemicals involved were water reactive, and when they are exposed to water they create heat, which “left unchecked” led to one of the two fires.
Police in nearby Rutherford and Lyndhurst earlier released statements online about the incident, urging residents to find a secure place to stay after reports of the chemical release began around 2 p.m.
“Shelter-in-place means selecting a small, interior room, (with) no or few windows, & taking refuge there. It does not mean sealing off your entire home/office (building),” Rutherford Police said on Facebook.
Diamond Chemical Company is a national manufacturer of laundry, housekeeping, sanitizing and other industrial products, according to its website. The headquarters located off Route 17 in East Rutherford is a 150,000 square foot complex on a 12 acre property.
Diamond Chemical was not immediately available.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sent its emergency response staff to assist local and state officials at the scene, according to a statement from the agency’s New York-based regional office.
“EPA will consult with the lead agencies, including New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), and will provide and assistance needed,” the agency’s statement said.
According to NJ DEP records, Diamond Chemical received multiple violations last year, including for failing to conduct an annual emergency response drill.