Officials give all-clear after ‘chemical release’ at New Albany plant

Officials are investigating a chemical release that happened at a New Albany chemical plant on Tuesday morning.
Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 11:52 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 14, 2023 at 6:17 PM EDT
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NEW ALBANY, Ind. (WAVE) - Officials are investigating a chemical release that happened at a New Albany chemical plant Tuesday morning.

Around 10:15 a.m., officials responded to calls of an “orange plume” in the air near the Blue Grass Chemical Specialties plant on Industrial Blvd, according to Floyd County Emergency Management Agency spokesman Kent Barrow.

Blue Grass Chemical Specialties Executive Vice President Paul McCauley said a reactor acted at a rate faster than normal and was unable to send nitrogen oxides through scrubber filters. The NOx filled the factory before being released into the air.

“The actual quantity so far is undetermined,” McCauley said. “There is an internal investigation going on.”

McCauley said the company has a permit with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to filter the oxides before being released.

”This has happened in the past,” McCauley said. “It’s not happened to this scale. The reaction was proceeding at a rate that we could not get it to the scrubbers quickly enough, and after it filled our building, it of course released into the air.”

The oxides are a byproduct of the chemical plant when nitrating metals. According to the company, similar to oxides that come out of the tailpipe of a car, but with different concentrations.

“NOx is a pollutant, so no pollutant is good to breathe in, needless to say,” McCauley said. ”It’s just oxides of nitrogen. They are a common byproduct of what we do here. That’s nitrating metals. We make a lot of metal nitrate solutions that are used for everything.”

McCauley said it’s difficult to measure the concentration of oxides that were released in the air as it dissipates when it mixes in with the wind.

No one within the chemical plant was taken to the hospital, McCauley confirmed.

Floyd County EMA said the decision was made to issue a shelter-in-place for Mt. Tabor Elementary School and several businesses that were nearby out of precaution.

IU Southeast posted a shelter-in-place update at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, advising students on campus to remain inside due to the chemical leak.

The shelter-in-place was lifted around 11:40 a.m.

“Continue to avoid the area south of campus as local authorities work to clean up the chemical release,” officials with IU Southeast tweeted.

Barrow said Floyd County EMA worked with Indiana State Police and the New Albany Police Department to close down I-265 between exit 4 and exit 1.

The road has since been cleared, according to INDOT.

New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan provided an update stating the oxides were not harmful at the released levels, according to a Blue Grass Chemical Specialties chemical engineer.

”The chemical reaction here today was visible. And lots of folks out here to get to the bottom of it,” Gahan said.

“The smoke was due to a reaction inside the plant, and the reaction has stopped,” Gahan provided in a post. “Emergency Management crews, after utilizing gas monitors on site, have now given the all-clear for the area. The yellow smoke has dissipated from the area and affected roadways are open.”

Gahan said officials are working to determine what caused the incident.