The Environmental Protection Agency continues to monitor air around the vacant Baycote Metal Finishing Facility at 1302 Industrial Drive in Mishawaka -- but they have given the OK for people who live nearby to return home after a chemical leak forced them to evacuate.
Firefighters say the building has been vacant since 2008 but this spring the EPA started cleaning up the site. Over 50,000 gallons of liquid and solid chemicals were stored there. Yesterday morning a crew put some of those solid "sludge-like" chemicals into a poly-lined cubic yard-sized cardboard box. That cleanup crew left the building around 4 p.m. Then around 7:15 p.m. some of those chemicals self-combusted, catching on fire. The Mishawaka fire department went to the scene to put out the fire and when they went inside saw a large white vapor cloud.
WSBT learned today that vapor cloud was made up of hydrogen cyanide
Mishawaka fire Chief Jim Cocquyt ordered an evacuation of an area around the plant. Some residents reported an awful smell that burned their noses, skin irritation, and burning eyes.
Roads were closed between Byrkit Avenue west to Merrifield, and 12th Street north to Lincoln Way East.
32 people and five pets stayed overnight at St. Joseph Elementary School on Third Street in Mishawaka where the Red Cross had set up an emergency shelter. CLICK HERE FOR A MAP
Blankets, pillows, cots, food and toys for the children were supplied.
Cocquyt said hundreds were evacuated. Most went to stay with family and friends. This morning around 7 a.m. the EPA announced it was safe for the families to return home.
Mary Holcomb and her two great-grandsons stayed at the school. They said the Red Cross took good care of them and provided them updates often. Holcomb says she arrived home last night to find a note on her door from the EPA ordering her to evacuate. She says she could, "smell something nasty in the air," and that, "it burned my nose."
Eight people were checked out at local hospitals, including a local TV reporter who does not work at WSBT, but there were no serious injuries.
Spokeswomen for both St. Joseph Regional Medical Center and Memorial Hospital confirmed both hospitals counted the number of cyanide kits they had on hand in case anyone had been exposed to hydrogen cyanide. Last night officials say there were low level readings of cyanide in the vacant building at 1302 Industrial Drive, but none in the surrounding area. However, officials did not want to take any chances and ordered the evacuation.
The EPA arrived on scene around 10 p.m. last night. They set up ten air quality monitoring systems inside the building, around the perimeter, and had portable monitoring units throughout the evacuation area. The readings from those units showed the air quality outside to be good.
Paul Atkociunas, EPA On-Scene Coordinator, says they have been working diligently to carefully clean up the chemicals in that building, and what happened last night was an, "unfortunate accident." The EPA's original plan was to have the entire site cleanup and all the chemicals removed by November. Atkociunuas is not sure if Friday's incident will change that date.