Archive for Friday, July 18, 2003

Fire shuts down North Lawrence chemical plant

July 18, 2003


Fire spewed smoke into the air late Friday morning above a chemical plant in North Lawrence, forcing its shutdown and evacuation of nearly a dozen employees and a nearby farm, officials said.

The fire, reported about 11:20 a.m., blazed from the sixth floor of Peak Chemical's phosphorous pentasulfide plant at the chemical complex of Astaris, 440 N. Ninth St.

Plant employees said they had doused the blaze by shortly after noon, using carbon dioxide and other chemicals, said Radwan Qaddadeh, deputy operations manager for Lenexa-based Peak Chemical. The plant was shut down immediately.

"Everybody's safe. Nobody got injured," he said shortly after noon at the scene.

Qaddadeh said the cause of the blaze wasn't immediately clear: "It could be electrical. It could be the material."

The material, known as P2S5, is an addititive that makes motor oil slick. It also is used in some pesticides.

Exposure to smoke from a P2S5 would not be inherently dangerous, he said, but it could be unfomfortable.

"It may cause some irritation to the throat," Qaddadeh said.

Emergency personnel weren't taking any chances.

Roads surrounding the 35-acre complex at the edge of North Lawrence were barricaded, and workers and customers were evacuated from the Bismarck Gardens farm, 1616 N. 1700 Road.

E1600 Road, which is downwind and east of the the plant, was closed by sheriff's deputies.

Peak Chemical purchased the P2S5 plant from Astaris in April 2000. The plant's 26 employees officially left the Astaris payroll and moved onto Peak's at the beginning of this year.

All 11 Peak employees at the site Friday got out of the plant and escaped injuries, Qaddadeh said.

Karen Schuyler, manager of Astaris at the site, said that Astaris' operations remained unaffected by the Peak fire. Astaris was continuing to produce its phosphoric acid -- the ingredient that puts the zing in colas -- and dry phosphates, which put the grit in toothpaste and help keep packaged meats moist.

Schuyler said that the smoke never threatened traffic on the Kansas Turnpike, which is north of the site.

"It looks like the fire burned itself out," Schuyler said.

For more on this story, see the 6News report at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Sunflower Broadband's channel 6 and pick up a copy of Saturday's Journal-World.

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