Little pollution seen from Longview fire

Old aluminum plant catches fire, spews foul smoke

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Multiple organizations are continuing to monitor and investigate the aftermath of the fire incident at the Millennium Bulk Logistics Terminal that occurred last night at around 6:30pm. The Department of Ecology (WDOE), Southwest Washington Clean Air Agency (SWCAA), and the Cowlitz County Health and Human Services are determining the potential environmental and health impacts from the blaze. Investigators from Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue are still determining a cause and are evaluating what materials were involved in the structure.

There were many concerns that a 500 gallon tank of sulfuric acid, used to treat storm water runoff, was involved in the fire. Fire officials have confirmed that this tank was not involved in the fire nor has it been compromised in any way. At this point it appears that only normal industrial building materials (foam insulation, plastic piping, and standard construction materials) were involved in combustion. The structure (approximately 150 foot by 100 foot) was constructed of steel and did contain some interior partitions. Assistant Chief and Safety Officer of the incident Alan Headley comments, “The initial effort was to contain the fire and reduce the amount of smoke dispersed. Our crews directing water streams into to the smoke column to reduce heat and contaminants released. We’re very thankful nobody was injured. The Millennium representatives on scene were very cooperative and helpful during the incident.”

WDOE is working with Millennium environmental staff to evaluate and manage fire suppression water. They have stated that the majority of the water used to suppress the fire is contained within the water treatment facility’s containment structures and that all of their emergency protocols have been followed. They are not aware of any releases to outside water sources and Millennium staff has installed back-up pH and flow equipment to monitor the discharge at Outfall 002A. “We made observations and talked with fishermen downstream. No evidence of ash or charred material was found. The river is running very high and fast. We don’t think any additional water monitoring or sampling is required, stated Jim Sachet, SW Region Spill Manager for the WDOE.

SWCAA technicians are on scene at the facility and are continuing to monitor the air for any harmful particulates. SWCAA monitors air quality for SW Washington. St. John’s medical center has been contacted and report that only six people requested medical evaluation for minor respiratory irritations. Bob Elliott, executive director of the SWWCA, said he had been in touch with Cowlitz Emergency Management officials about the fire. Based on the acidic smell of the smoke, it sounded like it contained “some level of toxic air pollutants,” he said. “Staying indoors was the correct recommendation by the Sheriff,” Elliott said Tuesday night. “The investigation of the fire is going to help tell us more.”

According to Dr. Jennifer Vines of the Cowlitz County Health and Human Services Department, regarding the burning of plastics, insulation, and Styrofoam. “The most immediate potential health effects are eye, throat and lung irritation from particulates, which are tiny particles (smaller across than a human hair) that result from incomplete burning. Individuals with heart or lung problems like congestive heart failure (CHF), asthma, or emphysema (COPD) are more sensitive to these particles and may want to stay indoors until the particulates clear out of the air naturally. Anyone with symptoms severe eye irritation or breathing trouble should seek medical care. In general, natural air currents tend to dissipate pollutants over hours to days, so exposure to particulates and potential toxins is limited.”

Millennium Bulk Logistics Longview Terminal is an existing alumina export terminal which is proposed to be modified to incorporate a new coal export facility and equipment for cement products imports and distribution. The terminal is located near Longview in Washington State. The company proposing the new facilities, Millennium Bulk Terminals (MBT), is a subsidiary of Ambre Energy, an Australian resources company. Millennium officials say the facility would create about 70 permanent jobs and generate $1.5 million in state and local tax revenues annually, double that during construction, which is expected to take 12 to 18 months. Millennium CEO, Joe Cannon, was already scheduled to arrive in the United States today for other business.