On the evening of October 26th, when temps were in the low 70’s and the residents of Metropolis, Illinois had been enjoying the warm Sunday night breeze, alarms began piercing the stillness as an emergency warning alerted that something bad was going down at the local Honeywell Uranium Processing Plant. In what would later be described by Honeywell as an “on-site leak” occurred at approximately 7:35 pm, just as night had fallen. Videos were widely shared by terrorized citizens of a large white cloud over the plant, while alarms continued to blare loudly and emergency vehicles gathered inside the gates. At some point that cloud drifted into neighboring communities.
Summary of phone call with Roger Hannah of the NRC Region II Public Affairs Dept:
NRC is on-site, has been since Monday (one guy).
*Area in plant is still being decontaminated.
*Plant is SHUT DOWN until investigation is complete.
*NRC Investigator has indicated sabotage was unlikely based on interviews.
*Preliminary indications are that there was a “weakness” or “mechanical failure” in joint at bottom of one container. Metallurgic forensic testing may be needed. Leak was stopped sometime on Sunday evening, but he wasn’t sure exactly when.
*SO FAR it doesn’t look like contamination made it “over the fence”, but they are still looking at data. Sketchy answer. Aware of reports of people smelling and tasting something possibly toxic.
*Runoff from massive spraying “probably” went into drains and wells, monitors will show it, but he was unsure if drains even exist on property!?
*No indication Ohio River was contaminated from runoff, EPA (and possibly Illinois FEMA?) are there testing too.
*Not aware of anyone from surrounding community that went to ER for treatment, but he was a bit sketchy about these details too. No clear chain of information. Community hospitals seem to have NO PLAN in the event of an emergency. I find this very surprising in light of the numerous leaks that have occurred at this facility. That’s bad, and needs to be addressed by the local hospitals and community leaders at once imo. I am tempted to call the hospital about this.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission investigators are at the Illinois plant and have started an investigation. They will monitor recovery and clean up. According to the NRC, the plant has been shut down. (download attachment) Honeywell’s initial assessments are that no emergency thresholds were exceeded. The incident classified as “other” was reported by the public.
College age replacement workers have been operating the plant during the latest union work stoppage. “They are students and interns training to be engineers,” a resident said.
You can download as a PDF attachment, Acute Exposure Guideline levels for Selected Airborne Chemicals.
From Huntington News, WV: “Union representatives are reporting that seven people north of the plume suffered burns and that another seven to ten at or near the EEI plant who had sheltered in place also suffered injuries. Union employees walking a picket line Sunday night distributed a video of the release; however, Honeywell claims it was spray used to contain leaks.
On the union’s Facebook page, a posting provides media links for anyone injured to speak out. Local media have been accused of taking the plant’s word for it.
Another source indicated that about a month ago, three workers were hurt inside the plant, but were told not to tell anyone about their injuries.”
From Union News: “While a Honeywell representative in New Jersey told local media that “there is no indication that any material has left the building,” raw video taken outside the plant (see links below) shows the suspected gas leaving the building for at least six minutes before water mitigation towers were activated.
Witnesses who saw the plume leaving the plant property placed multiple 911 calls but were told that the release was “in house” and “under control.”
“There was a systematic breakdown in the response to the emergency. It wasn’t just our people; local citizens called 911 and were told that the company has reported the situation to be under control, all while they watched the gaseous vapor leave the building and the site,” said Lech, who was on the scene during the incident. “A company spokesman in New Jersey and an NRC office in Georgia were reporting on events in Metropolis while we watched the reality of the situation unfold.”
From Reuters: “At this point we’re still in a fact-finding mode,” Hannah said. “We haven’t come to any conclusions about whether processes weren’t followed.” He said the investigation could take a few days to a week.
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