Firefighters respond to a fire at the Kassouni Manufacturing plant in Belding. Courtesy Michigan Department of Health and Human Services
County, state and federal agencies have temporarily shut down certain manufacturing operations of a maker of chlorine pool tablets in the area following a fire caused by a toxic chemical reaction.
The Ionia County Health Department (ICHD) issued an imminent danger order to Belding-based Kassouni Manufacturing Inc. on July 12 after the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) determined KMI violated the Clean Air Act and endangered residents in the vicinity by failing to “properly collect and dispose of air contaminants,” specifically trichloroisocyanuric acid dust.
The order required KMI to shut down all manufacturing operations involving trichloroisocyanuric acid at its facility at 815 S. Front St. in Belding until ICHD, EGLE, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could formalize a plan for managing the chemical.
KMI has since complied with the county’s order, according to Bob Wheaton, public information officer for MDHHS.
“All trichloroisocyanuric acid has been secured. All manufacturing involving the trichloroisocyanuric acid are currently shut down and will remain shut down until an appropriate management plan is in place,” he said.
Wheaton added the four agencies are actively working on the containment plan.
Trichloroisocyanuric acid was used in production of the company’s chemical pool tablets and is “highly toxic.” When mixed with water, it produces chlorine gas, which is deadly to humans, and also can cause intense heat, ICHD said.
KMI’s facility is currently storing 200,000 pounds of trichloroisocyanuric acid. The company experienced fires on at least seven occasions in the past dozen years, including, most recently, on June 22, due to the chemicals being stored under a section of KMI’s roof that was leaking and allowed rainwater in, according to ICHD.
On June 25, EGLE issued a violation notice to Tom O’Malley, vice president, KMI, for failing to properly store, collect, contain and dispose of the acid powder.
According to ICHD, EPA modeling estimated that if “a significant amount of water” made contact with the acid, between 136 and 470 people in the vicinity could be killed from inhaling chlorine gas created in the chemical reaction.
No injuries or deaths have been reported, Wheaton said.
“Any imminent danger to the public has been eliminated. Protecting public health is our top priority in this situation,” he said.
“(The acid) has now been moved to a more secure location and has been covered in plastic tarps and plastic covers so that water can’t interact with the chemical.”
KMI officials did not respond to the Business Journal’s request for comment.