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Chemical reaction at ITEN sends one to hospital

By:  Star Beacon - Megan Poinski and Mark Todd

ASHTABULA - The air on West 38th Street smelled of pungent chemicals after about 262 pounds of organic peroxides began to react at ITEN Industries plant three Wednesday afternoon, said Capt. Gerald Senger of the Ashtabula Fire Department. When one container of chemicals was being taken off of a refrigerated truck, it became hot and caught fire, Senger said. The eight to ten employees at ITEN at that time were evacuated from the building, and the fire department was called. Organic peroxides could explode in a reaction, Senger said, so precautions were taken.

ITEN employees and city fire fighters waited outside of the building for several minutes. The chemicals did not explode. "We took no action," Senger said. "We stood outside and waited for the reaction to stop." One ITEN employee was transported to Ashtabula County Medical Center for treatment of chemical inhalation. Truck driver Travis Canter was taken to ACMC as a precaution, said Fire Capt. Mark Calaway. Nearby residents were not evacuated from their homes, but West 38th Street was closed while the fire department was on the scene.

ITEN's refrigeration unit, where the reaction took place, was destroyed, Senger said. He did not know the monetary value of the damages Wednesday afternoon. The plastic interior of the refrigeration unit melted from heat generated by the reaction, Calaway said. The heat was intense enough to activate an overhead sprinkler, and the water may have helped cool the substance, he said. "The fumes coming out of the building were less than when it first happened," Calaway said.

Organic peroxide is a catalyst commonly used in the plastic, fiberglass and rubber industries, firefighters said. Firefighters were initially dispatched to a water flow alarm shortly before 2 p.m., but en route the call was changed to a chemical leak, Cal- away said. After the reaction was over and the area deemed safe, fire department personnel left the scene around 5:12 p.m., he said.

Senger said the chemicals were being handled correctly and no one knew why the chemicals reacted. The material, which was delivered in a powered form, apparently began its chemical reaction as it warmed, firefighters said. Senger said this type of reaction does not happen very often. Neighbors said they were used to smells and fires from the nearby chemical plants, but hadn't smelled anything like Wednesday afternoon's reaction before. "This is bad," said Donna Deskins who lives across the street from ITEN's plant, as she made a disapproving face. Rick Fortune, corporate purchasing manager for ITEN Industries, refused to comment on the situation, saying only it was under investigation.

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