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IEI Plastics warehouse contents ranged from mundane to toxic

The Jackson Herald - 11/28/2017

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel PARKERSBURG, W.Va. - More than 500 pages of material safety data sheets show a range of mundane and potentially toxic products which could have been stored in the IEI Plastics warehouse in south Parkersburg which burned for more than a week in October.

The Intercontinental Export-Import Plastics warehouse on Old Camden Avenue, the site of the former Ames shovel plant, caught fire Oct. 21. The blaze sent up a plume of black smoke which could be seen and smelled for miles. Concerns over air quality closed downtown businesses and government agencies, as well as all county schools.

Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for Wood County on Oct. 24.

Nearly 70 agencies battled the blaze, which was declared extinguished Oct. 29.

A cool down period ended two days later.

Officials have struggled to determine what was stored at the facility, as well as how many other similar properties owned by the Naik company were located in the county.

A list of items supplied by the Naik company in response to an Order of Compliance by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection shows 16 items which were known to have been stored in the International Export-Import Plastics warehouse on Old Camden Avenue prior to the Oct. 21 fire which destroyed the facility and all of its contents.

The amounts stored were not included, but a map of the facility shows that many of the products were stored in multiple places. It is not clear if the map or the content listings were current.

The majority of items stored were used in the manufacturing of plastics products. Many came with few warnings for exposure, though some indicated fumes could occur if heated and all warned of the possibility of particulate matter causing breathing issues or being explosive. Those instances, according to the safety data sheets, would only occur if the items were ground into a fine powder, and most of the documentation indicates they were not stored in such a form. One of the only noted carcinogens within a handful of the substances was carbon black.

But supplemental records supplied by the company show nearly 50 other products which might have been stored in the facility, including basic cleaning supplies to plastics products which contained carcinogens or could release toxic fumes if heated or burned.

For example, a materials data sheet from IEI for Polyphenylene ether/High impact polystyrene and/or polystyrene blend, a synthetic thermoplastic polymer used to produce molded or extruded articles as a component of other industrial products "can burn in a fire creating dense toxic smoke," and warns "fumes produced during melt processing may cause eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation. Severe over-exposure may result in nausea, headache, chills and fever."

The safety data sheet also lists, in the event of a fire, that first responders use protective gear, fight from a safe distance due to potential hazardous vapors and decomposition products.

Other plastics when decomposing or exposed to high temperatures can produce particulate matter or toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, according to the data sheets.

Some of the documents include warnings for products containing polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE. At high temperatures, those plastics can release fumes which cause "polymer fume fever," a temporary condition which has symptoms similar to the flu. However, prolonged exposure can cause breathing issues and more serious effects, such as pulmonary edema which can be life threatening. The documents also warn that smokers and those with pre-existing heart or lung conditions are particularly susceptible and may suffer more serious effects.

Eric Fitch, associate professor and director of environmental science at Marietta College, said the documents don't seem to tell the whole story, noting there was no apparent information about the amount of the materials described.

Asked if any particular substances jumped out at him, Fitch said "just the sheer number of individual chemicals, that gives me pause." Fitch also said the data sheets should have been available to first-responders electronically.

 
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