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Shelter-in-place alert lifted for area residents

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Residents in parts of South Charleston, Spring Hill and Dunbar were forced to briefly take shelter in their homes Wednesday morning by what one local official called a "chlorine gas cloud" from the local Clearon Corp. facility.

One Clearon employee was briefly monitored at a local hospital and two firefighters who responded to the incident were treated for heat exhaustion, officials said.

The incident occurred shortly before 8:30 a.m. when an alarm alerted company officials "to the release of a small amount of chlorine," according to a prepared statement issued by Clearon.

The Clearon plant on MacCorkle Avenue Southwest, across from the stamping plant, uses chlorine to make dry granular bleach that is pressed into tablets for use to keep swimming pools clean. Bleach at the plant is also is used in industrial, laundry and sanitizer products.

Plant manager Scott Johnson said that the facility had been down for maintenance for the last month, and that some of its granular bleach - mistakenly left inside part of the production process -- had begun to "decompose," in a reaction that was giving off heat and fumes.

Johnson noted that, when mixed with water or heated, the product gives off a "heavy, dense, white smoke." The reaction releases water, salts, various chlorine compounds, and some amount of chlorine gas, Johnson said.

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said there was a "fairly small fire" inside the Clearon plant, and a "chlorine gas cloud" over South Charleston.

Chlorine is a toxic gas that irritates the respiratory system and can be fatal in large enough amounts.

South Charleston Fire Chief John Taylor said that a precautionary shelter-in-place was issued at about 9:45 a.m., and lifted a few minutes after 10 a.m. He said the all-clear was sounded at the plant at 2:30 p.m.

The shelter-in-place extended from the Mound in South Charleston west and includes Spring Hill and Dunbar, said Kanawha County Deputy Emergency Manager C.W. Sigman.

Manager Jennifer Sayre said one employee was treated for overexertion after carrying equipment up and down stairwells, but was back at work in the afternoon.

Sigman also said two firefighters were treated on site for heat exhaustion.

Sigman and Taylor said air monitoring tests conducted at the Clearon plant and surrounding area showed low concentrations of chlorine following the release.

The Clearon facility employs about 118 people.

"The situation was brought under control with the help of our emergency team and the local fire department," the company said in a statement. "All employees are accounted for and are safe. Clearon is investigating the cause of the incident and will take measures to prevent a recurrence."

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration had an inspector at the facility Wednesday afternoon to investigate, Johnson said.

Staff writer Rusty Marks contributed to this report.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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