Explosion at Parkersburg recycling plant accidental | News, Sports, Jobs - News and Sentinel

2022-07-16 00:25:53 By : Ms. Shellen Chen

The Parkersburg Fire Department responded around 12:25 a.m. Thursday to an explosion and fire at the Eco USA facility on Camden Street off Staunton Avenue. No one was injured in the accidental blast. (Photo by Madeline Scarborough)

PARKERSBURG — An unexpected reaction in a new process at a silicone recycling plant caused an explosion that shook Parkersburg after midnight Thursday.

The explosion was felt and heard more than a mile away from the Eco USA plant at 516 Camden St., and a mushroom-shaped cloud was visible under the light of the full moon.

No one was injured in the incident, which was reported at 12:21 a.m. Thursday, Parkersburg Fire Chief Jason Matthews said. Firefighters were on scene in four minutes and the fire was out 25 minutes after that, he said.

“They worked with the plant manager and worked pretty quickly to get it shut down and get the fire extinguished,” Matthews said.

The blast came from a piece of piping about 30 feet off the ground, he said.

This screen grab from a video posted by Ashley Herring shows the cloud that rose after an explosion at the Eco USA facility in Parkersburg early Thursday morning. (Photo provided by Ashley Herring)

Plant Manager Jim Kurucz said workers were in touch with developmental chemists Thursday and determined the issue was caused by a new process. The plant heats silicone oil to extract usable material for recycling, he said, but what was supposed to be an endothermic reaction, in which heat is absorbed, “transversed into a reaction that was exothermic,” where heat is released.

“This was not an anticipated reaction,” Kurucz said.

Plant personnel were able to open a valve that released nitrogen into the system, displacing the oxygen that could feed the fire, Matthews said. But some combustible material on the ground below had also ignited, he said.

The material that would have been released into the air by the explosion was silicone oligomers, Kurucz said, but they would not have been in a high enough concentration to cause adverse health effects.

“We’re actually very sure of that,” he said.

Eco USA notified a West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection inspector in the area of the incident and it appears the company’s containment protocols worked as intended, DEP spokesman Terry Fletcher said. The agency is evaluating whether further investigation or review is needed.

Matthews said firefighters are familiar with the Eco USA plant, having recently updated a pre-incident plan for the facility.

“They’ve upgraded several things over the years, and we’ve always been a part of that process,” he said.

Kurucz said the company wants to be transparent with local officials and regulators

“We’re actually here to help the environment by recycling a product that’s not normally recycled,” he said.

The plant employs 39 people and normally operates around the clock, Kurucz said. It’s shut down now as they investigate the explosion and make sure it’s safe to resume activity, which could take a week or two.

“We want to make sure all the equipment is in a safe state before we even consider starting back up,” Kurucz said.

Staff reporters Douglass Huxley and Madeline Scarborough contributed to this story.

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.

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