By October 25, 2017 Read More →

Gov. Justice tours site of fire at former Ames plant

By BRETT DUNLAP

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Before officials can investigate the cause of the fire at the former Ames plant in Parkersburg and before people can pick apart what was on the site and determine possible health impacts, the fire has to first be put out, a county commissioner said Tuesday at a press conference with Gov. Jim Justice.

Gov. Jim Justice, right, speaks with Lubeck Volunteer Fire Department Chief Mark Stewart, left, during his visit to the site of the former Ames Plant fire Tuesday. 
(News and Sentinel photo by Jeff Baughan)

A fire broke out at the IEI Plastics warehouse, the former Ames shovel plant on Camden Avenue, early Saturday morning that engulfed buildings sitting on a nine-acre site. There has been concern about the air quality due to the materials that have been burning that were stored there and emissions from the smoke in the air.

Because the buildings are old there was also concern about asbestos and other things being released into the air. People asked if samples have been taken from the site.

”Right now, they are fighting a fire and it hasn’t cooled down,” Wood County Commission President Blair Couch said. ”So, no I don’t think any actual samples have been taken out of the building. There have been samples taken from the runoff.”

Justice stopped by the scene of the fire and greeted firefighters and others Tuesday morning.

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Gov. Jim Justice’s vehicle sits along Old Camden Avenue as he and other state officials observed the cleanup Tuesday morning. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)

During his stop at the site and later at the press conference, the governor talked about how it is a blessing how people in this state come together and help each other.

More than 100 firefighters are on the scene from over 40 stations and two states.

”The situation you have is this great county and its great people are hurting,” Justice said.

There are not a lot of things known at this point about what was at the site and what the contaminants might be. There was a possibility the Wood County government would go bankrupt fighting this fire, which could have burned for 35-40 days if nothing was done, officials said.

”Someone had to stand up and make a decision,” Justice said of approving the financial support so the contractor who specializes in fighting industrial fires could remain on the scene and bring in additional resources.

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Gov. Jim Justice answers questions Tuesday during his visit to the site of the fire at the former Ames Plant. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)

Because of that more heavy equipment was brought on site that can move debris and open sections of the site where firefighters can attack different points.

The governor said he called in “all the king’s men and all the king’s horses” to help Wood County deal with this situation.

Justice said their office is making a list of every expense so the state can eventually be reimbursed from the company’s insurance carrier.

”We shouldn’t be out those funds,” the governor said.

The governor also addressed air quality concerns.

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Specialized Professional Services Inc. employees, in the green suits, talk with fire officials as the cleanup began Tuesday. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)

”We don’t really know what is going up in the air for sure,” he said. ”We have done multiple, multiple, multiple testings of the air. So far the multiple testings are OK.”

The state Department of Environmental Protection has taken 150 air samples in different locations since Saturday with all results being below the acceptable level of 1,000 parts per million.

The department is concentrating on the volatile compounds like carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, chlorine and ammonia, Justice said.

Couch said people who had worked at Ames have been consulting with fire officials on where they think some materials might still be there. The wood in the structure in some places had more than 100 years to cure.

Others asked about when an inventory list of what was being stored at the facility will be released.

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”When this fire went, it went fast,” Couch said. ”The (federal environmental protection agency) and the (West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection) have said that once this is not an active scene of fire fighting, they will be in there, as well as the (West Virginia) Fire Marshal’s Office. They are dying to get in there.”

Investigators have been going door-to-door asking people what they have seen and heard, officials said. The county and the state have brought the full resources to bear.

”We don’t want to hide anything, because my kids live here,” Couch said. ”We want to release everything fast, because you all have a right to know.”

The Department of Environmental Protection will go through its records on IEI.

”We are trying to compile all of the information,” Couch said. ”They are still fighting the fire.

”There are going to be answers. It may not be today and it may not be tomorrow. We want to make sure there is no health crisis in Wood County. Until we get the results back, I cannot sleep.”

Multiple agencies are looking at this from the federal EPA, state DEP and the Centers for Disease Control, among others, Couch said.

”We are going to have an alphabet soup of people trying to get through this so we can disseminate immediately that information,” Couch said. ”We are not going to hide it. It is not in our best interests or our families best interests. We will make those reports available as fast as they can be compiled.”

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he spoke with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt about the fire.

“I also spoke with Mayor (Tom) Joyce and Commissioner (Jimmy) Colombo asking them to keep me abreast of their specific needs so that I can ensure they are being met at the federal level,” Manchin said.

At least one person there said medical monitoring should be conducted with the firefighters who have been on scene.

”There has to be,” Justice said. ”For what they give us every day, they really give us their lives.”

Mark Stewart, chief of the Lubeck Volunteer Fire Department and incident commander, said they have had access to 5,000 gallons of fire extinguishing foam and have used two-thirds of it.

”We are not just spraying on a cardboard box,” he said. ”You have to find those places and with the heavy machinery we have in place now we can dig in there and separate stuff and find those places and deal with it.”

Justice cited the enormity of the fire, saying it was like fighting Godzilla.

Officials did not have any estimate on when the fire might be extinguished, but they are making progress.

”We are winning the battle right now,” Justice said.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Department of Environmental Protection announced air test results from West Virginia and Ohio are now online.

Later Tuesday evening, Wood County Emergency Management said a nationally recognized environmental science firm is finding steadily improving conditions since Wood County officials retained it to test air quality around the site of the warehouse fire in south Parkersburg.

The Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health of Little Rock, Ark., launched a testing regimen that features continuous air monitoring reinforced by frequent air sampling collections for laboratory analysis, Emergency Management said in a press release.

Aside from the visible soot particles, the initial results show little or no detectable levels of other likely chemicals in the smoke affecting the community, the release said. The levels of those soot particles, meanwhile, represent a moderate air quality impact – comparable to a wildfire, the release said.

“These findings support the advisories from county officials, which remain in place for area residents, as appropriate and sufficient,” the release said.

The results also supplement the separate and ongoing testing by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the release said. The department reports that it is monitoring for various pollutants that when detected have been at levels comparable to or lower than what is typically seen in urban areas, the release said.

The testing by the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health has focused on the same pollutants and additional contaminants, the release said. The center will continue to test and analyze samples until the fire is extinguished.

A press conference will be held at 11 a.m. today in the Judge Black Annex to discuss the results and the testing, the release said.

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