Atchison, Kansas, Chemical Spill Leaves Many Hospitalized

A chemical spill Friday morning in Atchison, Kansas, has left many hospitalized, officials say. The incident, which occurred around 8 a.m. local time, created a toxic, gaseous plume over the city, which caused widespread evacuations and injuries.

The Kansas chemical spill at Atchison occurred at a chemical plant, described as a distillery, owned by a company called MGP Ingredients. MGP describes itself on their official website.

“Headquartered in Atchison, Kansas, MGP started as a one-plant operation in the heart of America’s grain belt in 1941. Founder Cloud L. Cray, Sr., felt the company’s Midwest location and Midwestern values were important as a base to grow a successful business serving the needs of its customers. From its modest roots, MGP has evolved to become a leading supplier of premium distilled spirits and specialty wheat proteins and starches.”

According to the local KMBC News, the Kansas chemical spill was caused by a chemical reaction that occurred when a delivery to the plant was pumped into the wrong storage tank. The chemicals involved are reported to be sodium hydrochloride and sulfuric acid, which cause a dramatic and hazardous reaction when mixed.

MPG CEO Ladd Seaberg poses outside the site of the Atchison, Kansas chemical spill site, 2004
MGP CEO Poses Outside Atchison, Kansas Chemical Spill Site

The Atchison, Kansas, chemical spill is reported to have created a fog of chlorine-scented gas over the city, which dissipated after about an hour’s time.

“This was a large plume that enveloped a large area,” Atchison Fire Chief Ted Graf said. “We’re very fortunate this time that there were not more injuries.”

At this time, officials report that at least 34 people were treated in local hospitals for respiratory injuries and discomfort. However, residents have been warned by city authorities to report any strong bleach or chlorine odors in their homes so that personnel can be sent to investigate and aid in ventilation if needed, and the chemical fog may still be concentrated enough to affect neighboring rural areas.

“The one thing we had on our side was that the winds were enough to make it disperse,” said Chris Gitro, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, in a statement to local press.

Atchison, Kanasas, was effectively shut down for several hours during the chemical spill incident, with residents north of the MGP chemical plant being asked to evacuate entirely. Other residents of Atchison were told to seal their windows and shut off their air conditioning and furnace units to minimize the risk of injury and to stay indoors. Schools, including the local Benedictine College, were evacuated and closed as well, though News Press Now reports that Atchison students were allowed to return later in the day, after the all-clear had been give by city authorities. Roads in and out of the city, including U.S. Highways 59 and 73, and Kansas Highway 7, were closed for the majority of the day.

A worker moves product at the Atchison MPG plant, site of the Kansas Chemical Spill
A Worker At MPG In Atchison, Site Of The Kansas Oil Spill [Image by Charlie Reidel/AP Images]

MGP has not, as of yet, issued a public statement about the Kansas chemical spill. However, they have stressed in the past their commitment to environmentally sound business practices, and offer non-GMO products as well. The distillery produces and distills alcohol and similar substances for food, beverage, and industrial purposes. The Atchison, Kansas, plant where the chemical spill occurred reportedly employs some 300 people.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the federal agency charged with regulating industry, has said that they will be sending agents to investigate the Kansas chemical spill shortly. Currently, there has been no public discussion among federal, state, or local officials regarding whether or not criminal charges will be filed in the matter.

The Environmental Protection Agency will also be looking for any evidence of long-term effects from the Kansas chemical spill, but as of this time, the greatest danger seems to be over.

[Featured Image by Charlie Riedel/AP Images]