A chlorine gas leak shut down portions of Port Allegany, PA, and forced the evacuation of 50 to 100 people Monday morning.
No injuries were reported and the borough water system wasn’t impacted in an incident that emergency responders made quick work of containing, said McKean County Emergency Services Director Andrew Johnson.
The incident, which started around 8 a.m. Monday, involved a leaking chlorine tank in the borough water well house on Pearl Street. McKean County EMA arrived on scene and reported a gas cloud emanating from the well house, according the Star Hose Co. #1 fire department.
Johnson said people evacuated from Pearl Street and Main Street from Church Street to Arnold Avenue north in the borough.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said chlorine gas, which is a yellow-green color, can end up recognized by its pungent, irritating odor. The odor is similar to that of bleach.
The risk of chlorine gas releasing into the air involves exposure to the skin or eyes as well as by breathing.
Around 10 a.m. Monday, people with cell phones in McKean County received a Civil Danger Alert issued for Port Allegany, leaving many to wonder what had happened.
But around that same time, the leak had been contained, and the system’s manufacturer was on the way, according to Johnson and Borough Manager Bob Veilleux.
In that two-hour span though, an estimated 48 pounds of chlorine gas leaked out into the borough, Veilleux said. When borough employees started performing maintenance, there were 114 pounds in the tank, and when the leak was stopped, there were 66 pounds remaining, he said.
Veilleux said the water operators were following standard operating procedures while performing maintenance on the water system. While performing the work, a valve started to leak and they could not turn it off, he said.
“After trying to shut the valve, the employees evacuated the building and notified me,” Veilleux said. “I immediately called 911 and then called Univar, the system’s manufacturer,” he said.
Meanwhile, borough employees canvassed the neighborhoods, telling people to evacuate and letting them know shelter was available at the firehall.
The Northern Tier Community Action Corp. Head Start on Main Street had to briefly relocate. Sixteen children were temporarily taken to Port Allegany Elementary School.
Meanwhile, the Port Allegany School District was unaffected, but parents received a notification from the district that students and staff were safe and activities would go on as scheduled, said Superintendent Gary Buchsen.
Elsewhere in the borough, about 9:15 a.m. Monday, P.C. Federal Credit Union CEO/treasurer Audrey L. Lane said the Port Allegany office was notified of a chlorine gas leak by the Port Allegany Fire Department and emergency responders told them to evacuate.
“About 10 to 15 minutes later, they stopped in again, indicating that the evacuation area was being expanded and highly recommended leaving immediately,” she said. “As directed by PCFCU’sr Disaster Recovery Plan, the decision had already been made to close the Port Allegany office until further notice and continue operations at the Credit Union’s Farmers Valley location. PCFCU’s main concern was the safety of our members and employees, I feel we were notified in such a manner that we had time to address the situation and act accordingly.”