About 70 Magnablend employees and Waxahachie residents were evacuated after a release of liquid sodium chlorite, causing first responders to shut down roadways and monitor the chemical spill for almost seven hours.
The incident happened at about 2 p.m. Monday at the 100 W. Sterrett Road facility.
“We were met by one of the representatives Donny Lord there. We found out that they have one 330-gallon tote that was involved that they had an off-gas release on,” said Randy Muirhead, Waxahachie Fire Department Battalion Chief. “Shortly after we arrived, we had a pressure release off of that tote that basically blew the cap off of the tote. The product that was involved was sodium chlorite. In visiting with the representative from Magnablend, we had them go ahead and dispatch TAS, the environmental crew, to come down so we could get the containment and such storage on this product.”
About 12-14 similar totes were then checked by the environmental HazMat crew. First responders established an evacuation area of 150 feet from the spill because there was not a fire associated with the spill. The evacuation zone was later expanded to half a mile north and northeast of the area when emergency crews were notified of additional totes. Only one tote had ruptured.
“We do know that the container did split from the side when the cap from the pressure blew off of it and released the remaining product that was in there,” Muirhead said. “Everything took place outside the building. My understanding is that when the worker replaced the cap, and went to torque it back down, that is when he noticed the bulge in the tank. That is when he exited the area. That is when they hit the alarm.”
When the alarm was hit, the suppression system that covered the anhydrous ammonia tanks was activated. The system is a mist system and it helped to dilute the product that was on the ground. This product flowed into a holding tank, Muirhead said.
Magnablend officials evacuated their employees before emergency responders arrived. Then a non-mandatory evacuation of residences and businesses was conducted by the fire department.
“The affected areas that we did the evacuation on was East Sterrett Road, Waller Street and Culberson, and we also shut down the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad track at that time,” Muirhead said. “Also, the businesses that were up in the area of north U.S. Highway 77 close to the affected area and some of the residents in that area.”
Assistant Fire Chief Randall Potter stated the evacuation was just a precautionary measure.
“Downwind of it, there is not really anything that affects it downwind right now," Potter said. “The product is blowing north with the wind blowing from a south, southeasterly direction. It is dissipating so well, it is not like a cloud going over the freeway or anything like that.”
Potter added all of the employees and residents made it out of the impacted area safe and zero injuries were reported. No schools were in the evacuation zone either. The sodium chlorite rupture happened approximately 40 feet inside the facility’s property, Potter said.
The investigation into the cause of the rupture is ongoing at this time.
“The investigation is just starting. What we know is that a tote, which is a plastic container, that contained liquid sodium chlorite, which is a form of salt, it was showing signs after it was offloaded from a truck,” said Alison Jahn, Magnablend's director of communications. "What happened is the signs of reaction caused a rupture and caused a boom, which is what you may have heard some people taking about — a boom or explosion. It wasn’t an explosion, because nothing leaked. It was a rupture from a cracked tote. The other thing that I can tell you is that no one was exposed. There are no signs of exposure. No one has sent us any complaints of any type of exposure.”
When the tote was waiting to be moved, it showed signs of reaction. The tote was not undergoing a mix or a blend, Jahn said.
During the course of the call, the Texas Department of Transportation shut down the northbound Interstate 35E frontage road and the Sterrett entrance ramp.
Spokesman for TxDOT Ryan LaFontaine stated in an email that roads remained closed until the area was cleared and the evacuation was lifted.
Members of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Environmental Protection Agency were also called out to the scene.
“They confirmed that a plastic 330-gallon tote containing liquid sodium chlorite was involved. There are a total of 14 totes on-site (one that ruptured, one that is partially damaged), which are being evaluated by TAS Environmental,” TCEQ spokeswoman Andrea Morrow stated in an email. “EPA (The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) has arrived on-site as well. At this time, no air monitoring is being conducted, as there is no active off-gassing. However, both TCEQ and EPA are available onsite to monitor as necessary.”
HazMat crews took a thermal imaging camera and checked the other totes for temperatures to see if there were any fluctuations and everything turned out to be in the range that it should be, Muirhead said.
Also providing assistance on the call were members of the Waxahachie Police Department and the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office. The evacuation was lifted at 6:44 p.m. and residents were allowed to return to their homes and units returned to the station.