July 17, 2007 The Pump Handle 1Comment

You may already have read about a series of chemical explosions that occurred this morning at the Barton Solvents plant near Wichita, Kansas. An estimated 650,000 gallons of an “array of chemicals” were on fire, sending flames up to 150 feet high and a steady stream of thick black smoke into the air.

The good news is, plant workers were taking a break at 9:04 am, the moment when a Park City resident saw “the most craziest thing” he’d ever seen—a canister “the size of a semi-truck” flying several hundred feet in air “like a bottle rocket” before becoming engulfed in flames. Residents living within a half-mile of the plant or within one mile downwind were told to evacuate the area.

But here’s the clincher: everyone else in the area was told to stay at home with their doors and windows shut, and to avoid getting in the way of emergency crews. To allay everyone’s fears, the city administrator said that EPA monitoring equipment at the plant said the air quality was “looking good”—all things considered.

Where have I heard this before?

Christie Whitman, the pile, Manhattan…is this sounding familiar to anyone else?

I’m no expert on these things, but something about 650,000 gallons of an “array of chemicals” billowing up to the sky in a continuous stream of thick, black smoke makes me think this might be something to be worried about.

I’m also guessing I’m not the only one, because this morning, as I watched a live feed from CNN.com, I heard a man about to be interviewed tell the camera crew to wait a minute while he called his family. “Get the family, get the dog, and get out of here,” he told his wife. “Those fumes are toxic.”

Anyone else have thoughts?


Sylvester R, Finger S, Potter T, Griekspoor PJ. Firefighters try to secure special foam to fight chemical blaze. Wichita Eagle. July 17, 2007.

Finger S. “The most craziest thing I’ve ever seen.” Wichita Eagle. July 17, 2007.

One thought on “Another Day, Another Disaster

  1. Another part of this incident that is troubling is the claim that the fire crews didn’t have the correct type of foam (or enough of it) to fight the fire promptly. Doesn’t EPA’s Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know regulations require manufacturers of chemicals (like the Barton Solvent’s plant) to have an emergency response plan that is coordinated with the local fire station? In order for the firefighters to extinguish the blaze effectively, they need to know exactly what’s in that “array of chemicals” and how to rapidly get supplies of the right kind of foam to fight the fire. I’ll be paying attention to follow-up stories in the Wichita Eagle and other papers to learn more about this explosion.

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