BELDING, Mich. (WOOD) — Belding’s city manager is calling for more to be done about a plant in disrepair that poses a potential disastrous and deadly threat.
Ionia County health officials issued an order (PDF) Friday demanding that Kassouni Manufacturing Inc., 815 S. Front St., cease operations involving trichloroisocyanuric acid, a chemical the company uses in the production of tablets made for chlorinating swimming pools.
The chemical can catch fire when exposed to small amounts of water, releasing a dangerous cocktail of chemicals that includes chlorine gas, which can be deadly when inhaled.
The action against Kassouni came after the latest in a series of fires and uncontrolled chemical reactions at the plant. The incidents have involved relatively small amounts of the chemical collected during cleaning.
On June 22, the Belding Fire Department responded to the plant to find a haze in the air that residents said smelled strongly of chlorine.
“I woke up because I could smell strong chlorine and I told my husband, ‘Something’s going on down at the plant again, let’s quick close our windows,'” Wanda Cotton, who lives near the plant, told 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday.
That incident prompted Belding City Manager John Niemela to sound the alarms. He contacted local, state and federal health officials to assess the situation.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered a hypothetical incident analysis conducted by the federal Interagency Modeling and Atmospheric Assessment Center. The agency reported (PDF) that Kassouni housed some 350,000 pounds of trichloroisocyanuric acid and estimated that the results should it react all at once would be disastrous.
In the reported “best case” scenario, the agency estimated that 136 people could die and 1,812 could be injured. In the “worst case” scenario, 470 could be killed and 3,030 injured.
“It’s mind-boggling. It’s eye-opening and it’s one of those things you lose sleep over,” Niemela told 24 Hour News 8. “From that moment on my mindset was, ‘They need to shut that down’ — not temporarily. … Just simply shut it down.”
Under the county’s order, the plant must cease using trichloroisocyanuric acid and store it safely until building repairs are completed. The plant’s roof is in poor condition. Photos taken by health officials show tarps being used to shield the inside from exposure to the elements. The roof is among the fixes the county is mandating before Kassouni can resume using trichloroisocyanuric acid.
Niemela said he doesn’t think the order goes far enough and that he is concerned that thousands of pounds of the chemical are still being stored in the building.
He acknowledged that he doesn’t think there is an imminent threat. The main storage area for the trichloroisocyanuric acid is in a part of the building where the roof is intact. Nonetheless, he said, he doesn’t want the chemical used in the residential area at all.
“It may be unfair to the company, but what I see now that we haven’t seen before is they’d be better suited in an area where there aren’t residents,” Niemela said.