(UPDATED 4 p.m. Wed.) Cities Had Drilled for Chemical Spill at Columbia Heights Water Plant

Tuesday's chemical reaction was contained to a building 1/2 mile south of Fridley.

Update (4 p.m. Wednesday): The City of Minneapolis water plant where a chemical accident took place Tuesday was the site of an emergency drill last May that simulated a chlorine spill outside of the building. Here is more about that drill, via Minneapolis spokesman Matt Liable (skip down to the next Update section to read about Tuesday's accident): 

We simulated a full scale chlorine release and response at the Columbia Heights facility on 5/3/11. The scenario for the drill was that a chlorine tank fell while unloading it from the delivery vehicle. We simulated a scenario that fuseable plug on the tank cracked on impact and the tank started to leak. In the scenario, one of the City employees was overcome by the chlorine, and the driver and the other City employee escaped. 

The drill involved Police and Fire from Fridley, Columbia Heights, St. Anthony, New Brighton, and Minneapolis. It also involved EMS personnel and many City employees from: Water/Maintenance,Water Plant Operations, Safety Specialists, Security, Emergency Preparedness, and Communications.

This drill allowed us to practice using our Haz-Mat equipment, our shelter in place procedure, and internal and external communications. It allowed us  to work on coordination between Water personnel and the various response agencies.  It was also a good opportunity for the response agencies to  practice communication and coordination with each other.

Update (9:45 a.m. Wednesday): The City of Minneapolis told its residents Tuesday that city water was safe to drink after a hazardous chemical emergency at the city's water plant in Columbia Heights, about half-mile south of Fridley.

No one was hurt in the incident.

Although officials took the Columbia Heights plant off line, the main City of Minneapolis water plant along the Mississippi River two miles west in Fridley continued to operate normally, according to the City of Mineapolis statement.

The City of Minneapolis facilities in Fridley and Columbia Heights supply water to Minneapolis as well as Columbia Heights, Golden Valley, Crystal, Hilltop, New Hope and the Morningside neighborhood of Edina, as well as the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Fridley Fire Chief John Berg was on the scene Tuesday afternoon as part of the unified command at the facility, 4500 Reservoir Blvd. NE, Columbia Heights. Also, a Fridley Fire Department engine and crew pumped water to a Minneapolis Fire Department mobile decontamination unit.

As it turned dout, the decontamination truck wasn't needed, although hazmat teams got a "gross decontamination"—a shot with a water hose—after leafing th building, according to Fridley Fire Captain Dave Lenzmeier and Columbia Heights Assistant Fire Chief John Larkin. 

Larkin said he couldn't confirm a Twin Cities Incident Page report that the incident involved 500 gallons of caustic soda, but he said that the amount of hyrochloric acid was 6,000 gallons—two 6,000-gallon tanks that were each half full. 

The building's sprinkler system ran for about two-and-a-half hours, Larkin said, with excess water flowing into tanks below the building. The water may have helped mitigate the chemical reaction, which generated heat but no fire, he said.

Another thing that helped the situation Tuesday, according to Larkin, was a drill last year in which emergency responders and nearby residents practiced for a leak that unlike Tuesday's incident caused contamination outside the water plant.

Also participating in that drill, he said, was the assisted-living apartment building across the street. On Tuesday, Crestview Community residents peeked out a door as crews from three fire departments tackled the emergency, which was contained to a room within the main water plant building.

"It's a really, really safe building," Larkin said.

Jeff Brody, who has lived nearby on Reservoir Boulevard for 41 years, attested to that Tuesday as he watched from the plant's gate. He said he'd never seen an emergency incident like it before there.

Update (5:30 p.m. Tuesday): Two chemicals that shouldn't mix but did created heat but no fire Tuesday afternoon at the City of Minneapolis Water Works facility in Columbia Heights, about a 1/2 mile south of Fridley.

A chemical reaction in the building at 4500 Reservoir Blvd. NE was contained within the room where caustic soda was mistakenly added to hydrochloric acid at about 1 p.m., according to Columbia Heights Assistant Fire Chief John Larkin.

With fire crews from Columbia Heights, Fridley, Minneapolis and St. Anthony on hand, two pairs of Minneapolis firefighters donned silvery Level A (totally encapsulating) hazmat suits to enter the buildinga and evaluate the situation at about 3 p.m.

The first team encountered visibility problems and were relieved by the second team, who completed the evaluation. They determined that "temperatures were within a comfortable range," Larkin said, and were satisfied with readings on air quality monitors—meaning it was "OK to come out of their Level A suits."

Other personnel then entered to shut down the sprinkler system, which ran from 1 p.m. until about 3:30 p.m., leaving "a lot of water" in the approximately 50-by-60-foot hydrochloric acid room, Larkin said.

Update (4:15 p.m. Tuesday): "The building did what it's supposed to do." That was Fridley Fire Fighter Dave Neubarth's assessment of the hazmat situation at the City of Minneapolis Water Works building in Columbia Heights Tuesday afternoon.

Neubarth was picking up hose that his engine had used to pump water to the Minneapolis Fire Department's mobile decontamination unit shortly before 3 p.m.

Fridley got the call to assist shortly after 1 p.m., he said.

Original post (3 p.m. Tuesday): Fire crews from Fridley and several other cities descended on the City of Minneapolis water works facility in Columbia Heights Tuesday afternoon, responding to a hazardous-materials incident after caustic soda was accidentally added to hydrochloric acid.

That's according to Columbia Heights Assistant Fire Chief John Larkin, who said there was no danger to the community. The building was evacuated and there have been no injuries, he said, although ambulanes and the City of Minneapolis mobile decontamination unit are on hand.

The chemical reaction causes heat, Larkin said, but that is contained in the hydrochloric acid room and there has been no fire.

Two fire fighters wearing Level A hazmat suits for complete coverage were set to enter the building shortly before 3 p.m.

Larkin said his department got a call shortly after 1 p.m. Crews and vehicles from Minneapolis, St. Anthony, Fridley and Brooklyn Center are providing assistance, he said; Fridley Fire Chief John Berg is part of the unified command at the scene.


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