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Chlorine leak forces evacuation of homes

June 08, 2009|By DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Shepherdstown officials were forced to evacuate about eight homes near the town sewer plant on East High Street Monday afternoon after chlorine gas began leaking from a cylinder at the plant.

About three to four workers in the plant at 409 E. High St. were exposed to the gas, but the concentration of chlorine was not high enough to cause problems for them, said Shepherdstown Fire Department spokesman Marshall DeMeritt.

Rescue officials were able to place the malfunctioning chlorine gas tank into another container so it could be removed from the plant, DeMeritt said Monday night.

Despite the evacuations from homes, no one was injured by the chlorine gas, which can cause burns if it is breathed or if it comes in contact with skin, officials said. Everyone who was evacuated from their homes after the leak was reported at about 1 p.m. was allowed to return to their residences later Monday afternoon, DeMeritt said.

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Rescue units that specialize in handling hazardous material responded from Berkeley County, W.Va., and Washington County, Md. After those units and other rescue units arrived, officials kept onlookers away from the plant.

The plant workers who were exposed to the chlorine were washed down by Shepherdstown Fire Department officials as part of a decontamination process, DeMeritt said.

The hazardous material units from Berkeley and Washington counties assessed the situation inside the plant, which was evacuated after the leak was reported, DeMeritt said.

DeMeritt said operations at the plant "should be good" as he briefed reporters about how the malfunctioning tank was going to be placed in another container.

As word began to spread about the leak, residents started milling around rescue units, asking authorities about whether certain homes in town were going to be evacuated.

Neil Laggan sat on a wall near the intersection of High and Mill streets after he was evacuated from his High Street home, which is next to the plant.

Laggan said he had just arrived home about the time the leak started when he noticed several of the town's public-works employees in front of his house.

Laggan said he asked what was going on and they told him about the leak.

Laggan said he did not smell anything and was not affected by the gas.

"Except I've been evacuated from my house. I'd like to go get ready for work," Laggan said.

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