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Plant Chemical Leak Evacuates 3,000 In Michigan

Residents, students from three schools in the Detroit suburb of Melvindale evacuated as a precaution; one person reported injured.

MELVINDALE, Mich. (AP) — A hydrochloric acid leak on the roof of a metal finishing plant Tuesday forced the evacuation of about 3,000 people and schoolchildren. At least one injury was reported.
The acid leaked from a tank at Reilly Plating Co. and created a cloud, authorities said. The leak was contained in an open 500-gallon container beneath it, they said.
Lori Stallings, a spokeswoman for Oakwood Hospital and Medical Center, said the hospital was treating a Melvindale resident for respiratory symptoms and the patient was listed in stable condition.
Three schools in the half-square-mile evacuation zone were cleared as a precaution.
Students were either taken to a local ice arena or college. They were grouped by grade level and waited for their parents, who were asked to produce photo identification before picking up their children.
''It's good that they're taking a precaution — watching out for our health and the kids' health,'' said Rebecca DeLucca, who lives in the evacuated area and picked up her two children, a 10-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son, from the ice arena.
Officials were worried that the acid leak could become more of a problem if it rained.
Hydrochloric acid is a highly corrosive liquid that can cause burns if it comes into direct contact with skin or eyes. With rain, the chemical potentially can turn into gas and be breathed in, burning lung tissue and causing respiratory problems.
Even though rain fell during portions of the afternoon, the leak remained stable, Melvindale fire Chief Scott Wellman said.
Brian Schlieger, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency representative at the scene, said officials were monitoring the air quality within the evacuation zone and they were found to be within acceptable levels.
The plant provides metal finishing to the automotive industry and others. Phone calls to the plant went unanswered Tuesday.
Reilly Plating ran into minor troubles with the state earlier this year when it didn't have required air quality permits, but it is working to resolve the issue, said Robert McCann, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The company, however, also has a history of more serious problems with water discharges, he said, though that permitting process is handled by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.
A message seeking comment was left with the Detroit department.
McCann said both state and federal environmental regulators would investigate the leak and ''what, if anything, needs to be done to make sure it doesn't happen again.''
An environmental cleanup company was expected to pump the acid into a truck for removal, Wellman said. Once the chemical has been taken away, people would be returned to their homes and businesses, Wellman said.
Melvindale is a city of 11,000 and is located 8 miles southwest of Detroit.
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