Chlorine gas leak repaired at wastewater treatment plant

Published 2:44 pm Thursday, July 21, 2022

By Meghan McIntyre

The Farmville Herald

Farmville Emergency Communications received an alarm activation at the town’s Wastewater Treatment Plant on Doswell Street at about 8:13 p.m. on Tuesday, July 19. It was determined a chlorine gas leak caused the alarm, said Matthew Fultz, assistant chief of the Farmville Fire Department who was in command of the scene. 

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Farmville Fire Department and Hampden Sydney Fire Department were dispatched around 8:35 p.m. to investigate. Prince Edward County Emergency management coordinator Sarah Puckett arrived at the scene and contacted the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, which dispatched a hazmat technician. 

An emergency notification message was sent out around 10 p.m. to residents living by the plant, primarily those on First, Second and Third streets, asking them to stay indoors, sheltering in place. Another notification was sent out around 11:25 p.m. advising a precautionary voluntary evacuation due to the unknown size of the leak prior to the hazmat technician’s arrival. 

Chlorine, Fultz said, could be smelled from the facility up Doswell Street to the Prince Edward Rescue Squad building.

The Farmville Police Department went door to door to notify residents living near the plant of the ongoing incident and of the voluntary evacuation to the Fireman Sportsman’s Arena on Zion Hill Road.

At about 12:07 a.m. Wednesday, hazmat technicians were able to make entry and shut off all chlorine gas tanks. 

The incident was marked under control at 1:32 a.m. by a chemical company dispatched through CHEMTREC, a hazmat emergency response call center. They determined that less than 260 pounds of chlorine gas leaked from the system, Fultz said.

The Environmental Protection Agency requires reporting of chlorine leaks 10 pounds or more. 

The Town of Farmville released a statement on its Facebook page saying the leak was “small in scale” based on information obtained from the plant.

An emergency notification was sent around 2:45 a.m. to let residents in the area know it was safe to return home. 

The area is entirely clear now, Fultz said, and he couldn’t smell anything after driving around it Wednesday morning.

The leak was caused by a malfunction on a piece of equipment, said Farmville Town Manager Dr. Scott Davis. No injuries were reported, he said, but one person sought medical attention as a precaution to having contact with the chlorine gas.

The Centers for Disease Control lists chlorine as a “highly corrosive” chemical hazard for anyone exposed. The agency website states the risk includes contact with moist tissues, such as the eyes, skin and upper respiratory tract.

Exposure may cause burning of the eyes, nose and throat, the CDC states, adding that cough as well as constriction and edema of the airway and lungs can occur.

Chlorine is a yellow-green, noncombustible gas with a pungent, irritating odor, according to the CDC. It is a strong oxidizing agent and can react explosively or form explosive compounds with many common substances. Chlorine is heavier than air and may collect in low-lying areas.