All Barton Solvents Explosion Evacuees Now Home

Evacuees residing near the site of a chemical explosion at the <"">Barton Solvents, Inc. facility in Valley Center, Kansas were allowed to return home early this morning after nearly a week, according to a report in the Wichita Eagle.

A photo on the Eagle’s web site shows residents lining up to return to their homes after an explosion and ensuing fire had ripped through Barton Solvent’s chemical storage and distribution facility last Tuesday.

The explosion in Valley Center, a town just to the north of Wichita, vaulted the tank hundreds of feet in the air and quickly spread to other tanks, flinging an adjacent tank into the air and knocking the tops off of three. A fire then engulfed the 43-tank storage facility, which the company has said it will rebuild. There were no injuries to employees on the site.

Static electricity ignited vapors inside a 24-foot tall storage tank as it was being filled with naptholite, a solvent. Black smoke billowed hundreds of feet into the air, raising air quality concerns and prompting an evacuation of the surrounding area.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dispatched three on-site coordinators to Valley Center, along with a plane to provide measures of air quality, the EPA said in a press release last week. Though the agency had made no statement regarding the sampling results as of Wednesday afternoon, air quality had apparently improved to the point that residents were allowed to return home.

Preliminary reports indicate that the quality of the groundwater near the Barton Solvents Chemical Plant has not been severely impacted by the explosion. However, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) said in a press release that “The need for groundwater monitoring may continue for some time” to ensure public safety.

“Solvent-contaminated water and soil is already being removed from Barton Solvents property, staged for analysis and properly disposed,” KDHE added in the press release.

Barton Solvents employees were pumping chemicals from a truck into a storage tank when the blast occurred. Associated Press reports indicate that the truck was grounded at the time of the explosion, meaning that the static electricity must have originated in the tank.

Barton Solvents has provided authorities with a report certifying that all tanks at the Valley Center, Kansas facility were properly grounded as recently as six months ago, according to the Associated Press. But the tanks were clearly not grounded when the explosion occurred early last week, and Sedgwick County Fire Marshall Tim Millspaugh told the Wichita Eagle that he questions a statewide inspection system that allowed state regulators to ignore the facility.

State Fire Marshall investigator David Higday pointed out that there were about 16 inches of liquid in the tank at the time of the blast. Procedures on filling the tanks also remain unregulated, Higday told the Wichita Eagle.

Barton Solvents has announced that it will issue reimbursement checks to cover expenses incurred by residents during the evacuation. Evacuees with receipts will receive full reimbursement, while those without can receive full compensation, according to several area new sources.

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