Barton Solvents Plant Explosion; Some Valley Center, Kansas Residents Remain Evacuated

The Barton Solvents plant explosion forced residents to evacuate yesterday. Some residents forced to evacuate yesterday following the explosion at the Barton Solvents Plant were allowed to return to Valley Center, Kansas today. However, parts of the community closest to the blast will remain closed for the time being. Valley Center, a suburb of Wichita with a population of 5,000, was most affected by the explosion. No serious injuries were reported as of yet; although 12 people did have to be admitted to area hospitals. The plant is owned by Barton Solvents, a Des Moines, Iowa distributor of industrial chemicals, oils, surfactants, and plasticizers. The plant, about 10 miles north of Wichita, employs about two dozen people and about 12 were working at the time of the blast. All workers were accounted for after the blast.

The <"">Barton Plant explosion occurred at 9:15 a.m. and resulted in a massive fire. Witnesses said that smoke and flames billowed more than 200 feet into the air, and at least 15 smaller explosions were heard. Authorities said that 36 storage tanks containing about 660,000 pounds of chemicals burned during the fire. The tanks contained hydrocarbons, ketones and alcohol. Witnesses said that the fire burned so hot that there was little firefighters could do to extinguish the blaze at the Barton plant. Rather, crews focused on keeping it from spreading to nearby buildings, an endeavor which was largely successful. State, federal and local officials arrived in Valley Center last night to begin investigating the explosion. State officials also said that 60 Kansas National Guard troops would be assisting with recovery efforts. Overnight, workers built an earthen barrier around the plant to collect contaminated materials. So far, about 17,000 gallons of water, fire fighting foam and solvents had been collected.

State health officials decided this morning to keep sections of Valley Center closed because some parts of the community registered chemical levels as high as 15 parts per million. While they believe that long-term health problems should be minimal, residents could experience headaches and nausea for several days. There is also concern about the soot left from the smoke and vapors of the fire. Residents have been warned not to touch the dust unless they are wearing masks, gloves and other protective clothing. Chemical solvents like those stored at the Barton plant are known to be cancerous, toxic compounds. There is concern that the various chemicals in the smoke plume could have become volatilized, interacted and formed new, more dangerous compounds in the air.

The Barton plant explosion is the second environmental disaster to hit the state of Kansas in less than a month. On June 28, 2007 during an already catastrophic flood, at least 42,000 gallons of oil was allowed to escape from the CVR Resources refinery into the town of Coffeyville, Kansas.

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