Investigation into REC Silicon chemical leak underway

Published On: Jun 15 2012 04:48:47 PM PDT   Updated On: Jun 15 2012 07:29:11 PM PDT
REC Silicon Plant Leak

There were some tense moments Friday morning when the sirens went off after an explosion of some sort sent a toxic cloud up into the sky, forcing the closure of nearby roads -- including Interstate 90 -- as a precaution.

Friday morning wasn't the first time Megan Fielding heard the sirens coming from REC Silicon in Moses Lake.

"I told my husband, I said, 'It looked like a big atomic bomb or something a great big plume of white was going up in the air'," she said.

Fielding lives next door to the plant and has seen vapor clouds come from the facility before, so she did what she always does and started calling friends.

"I said 'Sue, it's coming your way don't go outside'," Fielding said.

When the chemicals in the cloud mixed with moisture in the air silicon dioxide and hydrochloric acid -- or HCL -- was formed..

Emergency management officials closed surrounding roads, including Interstate 90, and asked residents nearby to stay inside.

"We regret the impact on our community that our incident had this morning," Jeff Johnson, director of the REC Silicon plant, said.

At the least those chemicals can irritate the nose and mouth.

"They said it was serious. I heard it was bad for your health and to stay sheltered in place," Fielding said.

Some residents in the area say they didn't taste or really smell the fumes but several employees at Americold say they did and some even went to the hospital for it. Doctors there told them it was a minor chemical inhalation. Those affected went home to wash their clothes and take a shower.

"Our folks today monitored the cloud as it moved south on ground levels and we're not picking up the HCLs," Johnson said.

Eleven people went to the hospital but were sent home; one employee was treated on site.

The cause of the leak is not known but is being investigated.

"We'll go through a full investigation to determine exactly why this gas was released," Johnson said.

REC Silicon is setting up a claims department for anyone who went to the hospital but for now there doesn't appear to be any long term effects.