Hazmat teams, plant personnel worked together to clean Sikeston acid spill

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

SIKESTON, Mo. -- Thanks to quick action by Sikeston Board of Municipal Utilities personnel and the regional hazardous materials team, things are back to normal at the Sikeston power plant after a weekend chemical spill.

Board officials reported the explosion of a trailer at about 4:30 a.m. Sunday that resulted in a spill of about 7,500 gallons of hydrochloric acid.

The cleanup is "well on its way to being completed," said Sikeston Department of Public Safety Capt. Ken Dicus. "It's not affecting plant operations anymore. They've got everything back in service."

Members of the department are part of the SEMO Hazmat Team, so the first elements of a hazmat team were on the scene within minutes of the spill being reported, said Dicus, a supervisor for the hazmat team.

Without a local hazmat team to quickly respond, "the situation could have been much worse," Dicus said. "Without a hazmat team, there is the possibility we would have had to evacuate a wider area. One of the byproducts of working with this chemical can be hydrogen gas and the proper mixtures of hydrogen gas and oxygen can be highly volatile."

Additional manpower and equipment then continued to arrive in the hours following the initial response. In addition to Sikeston, the SEMO Hazmat Team includes members in Jackson and Cape Girardeau.

Dicus said the state has "taken a regional approach" to hazmat teams.

"We've been an organization since about '99," Dicus said. "We were already established a couple of years before 9/11. When that occurred, that opened up some additional funding we were able to get from the feds, which enabled us to purchase some equipment we would not otherwise have been able to afford."

The equipment included such items as air monitoring equipment, which is able to check for several types of chemicals, and level A entry suits, he said.

"Those are the type of suits used to evaluate the spill at the power plant," Dicus noted.

Additionally, hazmat teams are always ready to help out a neighboring team.

"We all work very closely together," Dicus said. The Poplar Bluff, Mo., area's Ozark Regional Hazmat Team assisted with the spill at the plant, for example.

"This is one where we brought in a lot of people because initially you are not sure what you've got. We wanted to make sure we had plenty of people, plenty of equipment ready if we needed to take further action," Dicus said. "All the feedback I've heard was very good: Operations went very smoothly, everyone worked well together."

Dicus said part of the credit for the incident being handled so well goes to the power plant's personnel.

"Actions they took before we got there were very critical," he said. "They had done everything right: They had a good accounting of their people, had their people out of harm's way and moved to safety, and had done everything they could to contain the incident."

Having good information was also an important factor in the response.

"The contractor there working with the chemical knew what had exploded," Dicus said. "We knew right away what the chemical was, the amount of it and the concentration of the chemical. All those make up how dangerous and persistent it is."

As the cleanup comes to conclusion, the Department of Natural Resources and the contractor's insurance company will investigate the incident.

"Right now as it stands it doesn't appear to be suspicious," Dicus said. "It would be difficult to reproduce what occurred."

Once the site is decontaminated, investigators will be able to determine the cause of the failure of the container.

They may find it to have been just a freak accident, Dicus said.

"One of the gentlemen there has been working with this chemical for over 15 years and works with this particular chemical up to 30 times per year and has never ever heard of that occurring," Dicus said.

Pertinent address:

Sikeston, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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