INDIANA - Officials Measure Damage to River From Fire At Metal Finishing Company : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

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Title: River absorbs another blow

Runoff from blaze at Muncie metal-finishing plant discharges into the White. By John Masson and Kyle Niederpreum

The Indianapolis Star

MUNCIE, Ind. (March 22, 2000) -- City officials are measuring potential damage to White River as the result of a fire at a metal finishing company Tuesday.

Water runoff from the fire at Certified Metal Finishers was being tested for possible contaminants. The unexpected volumes of water bypassed the city's wastewater treatment plant and discharged directly into the river.

Staff Photo / Mpozi Mshale Tolbert HEAVY METAL: A firefighter is framed by steel girders twisted by the intense heat of the fire at DynAmerica Manufacturing company in Muncie, IN.

Untreated sewage and possibly other unknown chemicals from the plant flowed into the river for several hours until the fire was contained and storm drains were blocked, said plant superintendent Barb Smith.

"We'll be checking for floating fish. It doesn't look bad so far," she said. "We're still taking samples throughout the sewer system."

Concern over industrial chemicals affecting White River was heightened by the contamination in mid-December at Anderson, about 15 miles downstream from Muncie. State investigators suspect industrial pollutants crippled the Anderson sewage treatment plant, triggering a fish kill in three counties.

The fire in Muncie began about 10:30 a.m. in a building that covers more than a city block and is shared by several businesses.

The blaze started in an area filled with cardboard boxes. Also nearby were propane tanks, acetylene gas, oxygen, oil, solvents and acids, said Battalion Chief Ron Eller.

By the time firefighters arrived, Eller said, the area was engulfed by fire.

"This stuff was totally involved and exploding, so we couldn't go in," he said.

Instead, firefighters were forced to back off and concentrate their efforts on preventing the fire from spreading to other businesses in the building. Commanders called as many as 50 firefighters to the scene.

The only injury was to one firefighter who suffered an apparent heart attack. Fire officials wouldn't identify him late Tuesday, and his condition was not available.

A man who has emphysema was evacuated from his home as a precaution, but a lack of wind allowed the smoke to rise straight up, so other nearby residents weren't affected.

No damage estimate was available late Tuesday, Eller said. The cause was not determined, and there was no evidence of foul play.

Sewer drains around the fire scene were eventually blocked to contain the tainted water, which will be vacuumed up and treated, officials said.

Results of river water sampling may not be known for up to four days. Officials were concerned about zinc as a possible contaminant resulting from fire runoff. But emergency management documents showed zinc was located in a part of the building unaffected by the fire, said Bill Gosnell, director of the Delaware County Emergency Management Agency.

City officials also said they were checking overflow points along the river about every two hours.

Because of two days of heavy rainfall Sunday and Monday, the plant was already over its daily limit for treating wastes. The plant's treatment capacity is 24.5 million gallons a day, but it had been receiving as much as 30 million gallons a day.

Smith said the high levels and fast flow of the river should help dilute any pollution.

Rains had increased flow from lows of about 18 cubic feet of water per second to more than 940 cubic feet per second, said Russell B. Grunden, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

The river, from Madison County to Morgan County, is still recuperating from a massive pollution incident in mid-December.

The city of Anderson's sewage treatment plant was disrupted by a suspected industrial discharge that wiped out 117 tons of fish, some of which are still being collected in Indianapolis.

In that case, a carbamate compound is suspected as the potential toxic agent that killed the fish.

Smith said one 55-gallon drum of the same material had been stored on the second floor of the Muncie metal plating company. But firefighters and Delaware County emergency management officials believe the heat from the fire was intense enough to incinerate the chemical before it had a chance to mingle with fire runoff.

Certified Metal Finishers was on a list of several hundred firms and municipal plants warned by the state to be cautious about any future discharges of carbamates into city sewers.

City officials said they did not know whether the company was using the compound at the time of the fire. The material is widely used by metal plating companies to remove metals from wastewater.


-- (, March 22, 2000

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