AKRON—Those living and working within a half-mile radius of Emerald Performance Materials' Akron plant were evacuated shortly after 1 p.m. July 18 in response to an explosion and subsequent blaze that filled the air with thick plumes of smoke.
Emerald confirmed the explosion as first responders were on scene monitoring the situation.
"We immediately activated our response protocols, evacuated the plant, notified the fire department and notified regulatory bodies," Emerald said in a statement issued three hours after the explosion.
The firm said that all of its employees had been accounted for and reported no injuries, though three of them were evaluated at a local hospital before being released.
Akron Fire Department firefighters and members of its Hazmat team were on the scene throughout the afternoon and worked closely with Emerald representatives to ensure continued safety in their efforts to control the blaze. The main concern, according to Akron Fire Lt. Sierjie Lash, was containing the fire and preventing the release of hazardous chemicals at the plant, which manufactures specialty nitrile, latex and butadiene-based emulsion polymers.
"(Butadiene) is a very volatile material but, again, it is not the only chemical that they work with here," Lash told local reporters on scene, "so any kind of reaction with the surrounding chemicals as well could be dangerous, which is why we have the evacuation process in place."
Lash, in the interview, said the fire department had a working relationship with Emerald and had established protocol and specialized training for response to an emergency such as this.
In a statement released late on July 18, Emerald confirmed that working relationship, noting that the preparedness of the department allowed the two to "work together to quickly and safely evacuate the plant."
A July 18 tweet from the office of Akron City Mayor Dan Horrigan emphasized that the explosion had not caused a mass release or plume of butadiene, but alerted residents and employees in the surrounding area that exposure to the chemical could cause eye, nose, throat and lung irritations.
UPDATE: The evacuation radius for the West Emerling explosion is 1/2 mile radius from 240 West Emerling, Emerald Performance Products (see map). This radius includes mostly business locations. pic.twitter.com/aOT5oELdkJ— City of Akron, Ohio (@AkronOhioMayor) July 18, 2018
Emerald, in its own statement, acknowledged that the Akron Fire Hazmat team conducted air sampling, which confirmed that no hazardous chemicals were present in the atmosphere.
According to a tweet from Horrigan's office, Akron first responders received support from a number of agencies throughout Summit and its surrounding counties. Among those assisting on scene and throughout the day were the Summit County Incident Management team, Summit County EOC, the Red Cross, Stark County Hazmat, Cuyahoga Falls Fire Department, Ohio State Highway Patrol, CSX Railroad, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the University of Akron, Victim's Assistance, the Metro Regional Transit Authority.
"While this was a dangerous and volatile situation, we are fortunate that no serious injuries were reported and no additional damage was sustained following the initial explosion," a statement from Horrigan's office read. "We thank our well-trained and well-equipped first responders for their professionalism and diligence in protecting our citizens and keeping our community safe today and every day of the year."
ALL-CLEAR has been issued by AFD for the West Emerling chemical fire. Evacuated individuals may safely return to their homes & businesses. pic.twitter.com/Q0HVtmyorf— City of Akron, Ohio (@AkronOhioMayor) July 18, 2018
Emerald, likewise, issued a statement thanking the first responders.
"Emerald's Akron plant wishes to thank all of Akron's fires responders who brought to a safe conclusion the explosion and fire at our facility earlier today."
Those evacuated from the area near the explosion were transported to the University of Akron Student Union where friends and family members could come to pick them up. They were permitted to return to their homes and offices around 5 p.m.
Emerald thanked "all those affected by the evacuation for their cooperation during this challenging situation."
In a video interview with media on the scene July 18, Carlos Medina, who said he had been working in a manhole underground on the Emerald Performance Materials property at the time of the explosion, recalled what he heard and saw.
"We heard a big boom and I started to feel kind of funny in the manhole," Medina told reporters. "(My co-workers) pulled me out and we just ran and evacuated. … Honestly, I didn't know if I was coming out or not."
After being helped from the manhole, Medina said he could see the area where the explosion occurred.
"The top part of (the building) was gone," he said. "It was in flames and I didn't know what to think besides 'run.' "
Emerald said all of its regularly scheduled employees have been asked to return to work and that unaffected areas of the plant should be back in operation once inspections are concluded.
"The portion of the plant where the incident happened will remain shut down until we complete a comprehensive assessment on the incident in conjunction with various government agencies and determine the cause," Emerald said.
During the 2013 Latex Conference in Fairlawn, Ohio, Emerald officials discussed plans to build a pilot plant within the Akron facility, which would focus on the company's Nychem line of specialty nitrile and butadiene emulsion products.
The project, they said, would include a reactor, along with an advance research and development operation. It was intended to help the firm expand its offerings and capabilities.
That same year, the Akron-based facility also faced a string of Environmental Protection Agency violations that stemmed from a July plant inspection. According to EPA documents, Emerald's Akron plant faced six counts:
- Failure to conduct monthly leak detection;
- Failure to maintain hazardous waste storage area to minimize chance of fire or release of hazardous waste;
- Failure to maintain records;
- Failure to conduct tank inspections and leak inspections;
- Failure to monitor organic compounds to determine carbon control device replacement frequency; and
- Failure to develop and implement an inspection monitoring plan.
The violations, which were resolved with the EPA in 2016, resulted in fines totaling more than $100,000.
In late May 2016, Emerald said it planned to sell its Specialties and Polymer Additives & Nitriles business groups to DyStar L.P., the U.S.-based subsidiary of DyStar Global Holdings Pte. Ltd., which is headquartered in Singapore.
In a separate deal planned for that same time, DyStar said Jiangsu Sinorgchem Technology Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of state-owned Chinese firm Sinorgchem, was to acquire the Polymer Additives & Nitriles business.
Emerald Performance Materials' products are used in a variety of applications including aerospace, food, beverages, cosmetics, household products, automobiles and sports gear. Emerald has two business groups and six operations. According to its website, the firm employs about 700.