Akron, Ohio — Residents and workers within half-mile radius of Emerald Performance Materials' Akron plant were evacuated shortly after 1 p.m. July 18 in response to an explosion and subsequent blaze that filled the air with thick plumes of smoke.
Emerald confirmed the explosion as first responders were on scene monitoring the situation.
"We immediately activated our response protocols, evacuated the plant, notified the fire department and notified regulatory bodies," Emerald said in a statement issued three hours after the explosion.
The firm said that all of its employees had been accounted for and reported no injuries, though three of them were evaluated at a local hospital before being released.
Akron Fire Department firefighters and members of its Hazmat team were on the scene throughout the afternoon and worked closely with Emerald representatives to ensure continued safety in their efforts to control the blaze. The main concern, according to Akron Fire Lt. Sierjie Lash, was containing the fire and preventing the release of hazardous chemicals at the plant, which manufactures specialty nitrile, latex and butadiene-based emulsion polymers. Butadiene is a plastics feedstock.
"[Butadiene] is a very volatile material but, again, it is not the only chemical that they work with here," Lash told local reporters on scene, "so any kind of reaction with the surrounding chemicals as well could be dangerous, which is why we have the evacuation process in place."
Lash, in the interview, said the fire department had a working relationship with Emerald and had established protocol and specialized training for response to an emergency such as this.
In a statement released late on July 18, Emerald confirmed that working relationship, noting that the preparedness of the department allowed the two to "work together to quickly and safely evacuate the plant."
A July 18 tweet from the office of Akron City Mayor Dan Horrigan emphasized that the explosion had not caused a mass release or plume of butadiene, but alerted residents and employees in the surrounding area that exposure to the chemical could cause eye, nose, throat and lung irritations.
Emerald, in its own statement, acknowledged that the Akron Fire Hazmat team conducted air sampling, which confirmed that no hazardous chemicals were present in the atmosphere.
According to a tweet from Horrigan's office, Akron first responders received support from a number of emergency response agencies.
"While this was a dangerous and volatile situation, we are fortunate that no serious injuries were reported and no additional damage was sustained following the initial explosion," a statement from Horrigan's office read. "We thank our well-trained and well-equipped first responders for their professionalism and diligence in protecting our citizens and keeping our community safe today and every day of the year."
Emerald, likewise, issued a statement thanking the first responders.
"Emerald's Akron plant wishes to thank all of Akron's fires responders who brought to a safe conclusion the explosion and fire at our facility earlier today."
Emerald said all of its regularly scheduled employees have been asked to return to work and that unaffected areas of the plant should be back in operation once inspections are concluded.
"The portion of the plant where the incident happened will remain shut down until we complete a comprehensive assessment on the incident in conjunction with various government agencies and determine the cause," Emerald said.