MDEQ Investigates Chemical Plant Explosion - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

MDEQ Investigates Chemical Plant Explosion

The Gulfport Fire Department is beginning its investigation into the cause of Sunday's explosion and fire at a chemical plant on Reichold Road.

Highside Chemical was destroyed in the mid-morning blaze. Gulfport fire investigator Joe Ing says his hunch is some kind of electrical failure sparked the fire.

While Ing begins his search for answers, DEQ is focusing on possible environmental damage. MDEQ biologists are taking four sets of water samples from the ditches bordering the plant's property and from the nearby industrial canal.

Biologist Barbara Viskup says 35 different chemicals could have been released during Sunday's explosion and fire.

"These are labeled for different preservatives. One is for nutrients like ammonia, since ammonia was one of the chemicals listed. We have one which is sulfuric acid," Viskup says. "There are so many different chemicals here and one is for metals. One of the metals we saw was zinc."

The company mixes chemicals for the air conditioning and refrigeration industry. DEQ coordinator Earl Etheridge says they don't consider any of them extremely hazardous.

"It's mostly food grade dyes and materials. They said you could eat some of the stuff. I respectively declined, but it is all fairly benign stuff." Etheridge says.

The samples will be compared to those collected Sunday to make sure the biologists aren't missing anything.

"Yesterday, with all the fire and smoke, we were trying to pull samples and we were really hurried. Today we can take our time and work where all the water flowed to and pull different samples just to assure everybody that there is no environmental damage out here."

"Hopefully we won't have any problems out in back bay. That's the main area of concern. And we also look for any type of wildlife that may have been hurt or damaged by this - fish, snakes, anything. We really don't want any wildlife getting in here drinking this cause it would kill them," Viskup said.

Monday's samples will be analyzed at the DEQ lab in Pearl and results should be back within three days.

Plant manager William Dyle told us he's concerned about his 18 employees and he's looking for a place to reopen as soon as possible.

by Marcia Hill

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