Accidential Chemical Release In Muskogee Prompts Evacuations

Tuesday, October 17th 2006, 12:37 pm
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- A chemical spill Tuesday morning at the Port of Muskogee sent up a huge plume of smoke and led authorities to evacuate about 250 workers and residents and close a section of the Muskogee Turnpike.

No injuries were reported, although officials said the plume could have caused eye irritation and some respiratory problems.

Tuesday afternoon, both the port and the turnpike were reopened, and the evacuees were allowed to return to the area, said Muskogee Director of Emergency Management Jimmy Moore.

"The wind was our ally today," Moore said. "If the winds would have been calm, this could have been a bad situation."

Authorities believe the plume was caused when up to 500 gallons of sodium chloride used to treat the city's water supply were accidentally unloaded into the wrong tank, which contained fluoride.

The tanker was being unloaded near the city's water-treatment plant, which is located at the port, said Pam Chastain, executive secretary for the port.

Firefighters estimated that about 3,000 gallons of material were mixed in all, but damage was limited at the site, Moore said.

The fire department will begin an investigation into who unloaded the chemical into the wrong tank after the spill is cleaned up, he said.

Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality officials were unsure Tuesday how much of the chemical had been released into the atmosphere, but dispatched an agent to the scene to monitor the cleanup and watch for secondary leaks.

"With most air-releases that dissolve into the atmosphere, there's not a lot of cleanup required," said DEQ spokeswoman Monty Elder. "Nature takes care of the cleanup."

Shortly after 11:30 a.m., authorities evacuated the north side of the port and blocked off the Muskogee Turnpike between State Highway 69 and State Highway 62, as well as a part of State Highway 16 south of Okay.

Located about 50 miles southeast of Tulsa along the McClelland-Kerr Navigational system, the port provides access to rail, truck, and barge transportation.