A chemical leak at an Atchison, Kan. plant on Friday morning was created by an “inadvertent” mixture of sodium hypocholorite and sulfuric acid, city manager Trey Cocking said Friday afternoon.
The leak was reported shortly after 8 a.m. on Friday morning, created a dangerous fog and led to a number of evacuations.
Officials intially estimated that 18 to 26 people were treated for respiratory issues, but that number was later updated to 34. Five of the injured were city employees from police, fire and public works departments. No serious injuries were reported.
According to emergency management officials, the spill occurred at MGP Ingredients between 10th and 14th Streets south of Main Street.
City officials said shortly before 11 a.m. that the situation was under control and the all clear was being issued.
“We are waiting for federal and state officials to come in and access the situation,” city manager Trey Cocking said Friday morning. “We’ve been told everything is clear at this time.”
The Atchison Fire Department advised people returning to their homes and businesses to use caution.
“If you notice a strong bleach odor or visible fog, please call 911 so that the fire department can assist with ventilating your home or business,” fire officials advised.
.Diann Funk, 50, said she heard sirens shortly after 9 a.m. on Friday morning. But her curtains were closed, the windows shut and she couldn’t see the thick, white fog with the chlorine-like smell surrounding her Atchison, Kan. home.
Minutes later, her husband, Stan, stumbled in the front door with the dogs, agitated, struggling to breathe and reeking of chlorine.
The dachshunds, Poppers and Dexter, appeared to be short-of-breath too, and Dexter began throwing up. When Funk peered out her front window she couldn’t see to the street.
“We could not see the trees in our yard,” Funk said. “It was that thick. My husband could hardly breathe.”
The Funks live seven blocks north of the plant and on Friday morning Funk said when her husband left the house to walk the dogs at a local park it was a clear, sunny day. At the dog park, he was hit with a chlorine-like smell.
“All of sudden it started getting worse,” Funk said. “One of the dogs was coughing. By the time he got the dogs hooked up and back out on the street, he wasn’t sure he wasn’t going to make it back.”
City officials reported that two chemicals were inadvertently mixed together which caused a reaction, but have not confirmed what the chemicals were. A Kansas Department of Transportation spokesperson mentioned in a press release that the chemicals were sulfuric acid and chlorine but Cocking said the city could not confirm the chemicals at this time.
The reaction led to a plume that created a thick fog that covered a good portion of downtown and traveled north and then west, as the wind shifted, he said.
“Fire crews arrived at the plant and put a foam-like substance on to the chemicals, which helped the fog dissipate,” Cocking said.
Brent Schuler, who works at Taco John’s on 10th Street, said he and his employees saw the plume before they eventually smelled it. They watched emergency management crews roll on to the street and wanted to know what was going on.
“The only thing that went through my mind was I want to get the heck out of here if it’s something serious,” Schuler said. “I got my employees out.”
People were advised to avoid that area through the radio and social media. Residents of Atchison who lived north of MGP were told to stay inside with their doors and windows shut. At one point, Cocking said, authorities considered evacuating the entire city of 11,000.
Residents outside of the plume area were asked to evacuate and avoid the area north of MGP. MGP has operated in town since 1941, and employs roughly 200 people at two locations. It was not immediately clear Friday how many MGP employees had been affected.
Students from three Atchison public schools were evacuated while students at the elementary school were told to shelter in place, said Atchison School District Superintendent Susan Myers.
Students from the high school, middle schools and alternative school were told to evacuate either to Wal-Mart or to the Amelia Earhart Memorial Airport two miles west of Atchison, but later the district was told to send students from all three schools to Wal-Mart, Myers said.
The Atchison County Courthouse was evacuated, and classes at Benedictine College were canceled.
The Environmental Protection Agency dispatched personnel to assist in the investigation.
Katy Bergen and Donna McGuire contributed to this report.