Del. Residents Evacuated Near Chemical Tanker Return Home

August 28, 2006

Residents living near a railroad tanker car that released a hazardous chemical, sickening 23 people, have been allowed to return home, officials said.

An evacuation notice for 44 homes had been issued Saturday morning because the temperature inside rail car, which was leaking styrene, was increasing and its pressure relief valve apparently was not working. By Saturday night, residents were allowed to return.

“There’s no appreciable pressure inside the tank,” said Matt Higgins, an environmental scientist with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. “We don’t anticipate any additional impact to the surrounding community.”

The car is parked at the Dow Reichhold Specialty Latex plant, which was evacuated Friday evening. Twenty-three people were treated for flulike symptoms and released.

None of the injured were plant workers, said Reichhold site manager Michael Galbus.

No chemicals have been released since around midnight, said Jamie Turner, director of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency. The cause of the release remained unknown.

An inhibitor was added to the tank car several weeks ago at the recommendation of the supplier, Chevron Phillips, Galbus said. He refused to speculate on whether the inhibitor was working properly but said it was meant to prevent polymerization, a chemical reaction that officials cited as the reason for the temperature increase inside the tanker.

Styrene is used by chemical companies that make plastics, synthetic rubber, resins and insulators, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site. Styrene vapor irritates the eyes, the nose, and the throat and can adversely affect the human nervous system.

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