Institute, W. Va. — A cloud of choking gas leaked Sunday from a Union Carbide pesticide plant and rolled “like a fog” through four densely populated communities, injuring at least 56 people, before dissipating after 90 minutes.
The leak of the chemical aldicarb oxime, a lung and eye irritant, was reported at 9:25 am. EDT and authorities warned 20,000 people living within a 10mile radius of the plant to stay indoors and shut off ventilation systems.
The cloud of gas, described as the length of two football fields, was reported in the communities of Dunbar, Institute, Nitro and St. Albans before it dissipated after 90 minutes.
Kanawha County Sheriff Danny Jones said the leak was capped off inside the plant shortly after it started and no one was seriously hurt.
“People were calling from all over the Kanawha Valley reporting odors,” a sheriff’s department spokesman said.
Union Carbide officials had no immediate comment and it was not known what caused the leak.
The plant is the only manufacturer of methyl isocyanate, the poison gas that leaked from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, killing an estimated 2,500 people and injuring more than 100,000 others on Dec. 3, 1984.
Jones said six workers inside the plant and 12 residents were taken to hospitals suffering nausea, burning eyes and respiratory problems.
Eighteen juveniles at the Dunbar Juvenile Correctional Center were treated for the same problems at the facility, said Frank Kirk, an official with the Kanawha County Ambulance Authority.
Twenty other people were treated with oxygen at an emergency medical center set up at nearby Shawnee Golf Course.
Pat Baciu, a gas station attendant at Dunbar, said the gas cloud was the length of two football fields.
“It sort of moved in like a fog,” he said. “It had a sort of sulphur smell to it, just sort of stunk. My eyes got a little bit red and I got a little sick at my stomach.”
Shirley Starkey, an Institute resident, said she was preparing to leave for church when she smelled a strong, foul odor.
“It came into the house like a rush,” she said.
Starkey and her daughter put wet towels over their faces and left the house. Starkey said the odor made her nauseous.
“I felt like I was going to vomit,” she said.
The warning for residents to stay indoors was lifted around noon and the situation was believed under control, said Bill White, director of Kanawha County Emergency Services.
Authorities blocked off Interstate 79 near Institute and W. Va. 25, which runs beside the plant, for about 45 minutes.
Article extracted from this publication >> August 16, 1985