The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency says it was likely that people within a 1-mile radius of a Chillicothe paper plant might have experienced nausea, sore throats or watery eyes after a chemical compound leaked from the site on Oct. 31.
The leak from the Glatfelter paper plant sent a foul smell wafting throughout central Ohio that day, drifting as far north as Franklin County’s eastern suburbs.
This week, EPA officials said that plant employees failed to notify the local fire department or local emergency management agency of the leak—something required under federal laws designed to protect people from industrial chemicals.
The plant did notify the EPA, as is required, EPA spokeswoman Heather Lauer said. The agency has yet to cite Pennsylvania-based Glatfelter or issue any notices of violations, she said.
“We are working with the company to try to determine why this happened,” Lauer said. “We could take some steps — we could look at the fact that they didn’t notify (local firefighters), and we could send them a notice of violation or take it down the line.”
Glatfelter workers were performing maintenance when a venting system failed, sending sulfur compounds into the surrounding air.
Steve Gallagher, assistant chief of the Chillicothe Fire Department, said about 10,000 people likely live within 1 mile of the plant. He said the department received no reports of adverse health effects the day of the leak.
The plant emits around 300,000 pounds of sulfuric acid a year, according to data collected by the U.S. EPA.
Gallagher said local emergency planning officials are talking about the leak and why Glatfelter didn’t notify the fire department.
“There’s a reason (that notification) needs to be done,” he said. “The last thing we want to be doing is find out we’re chasing our tails trying to deal with what could be a significant leak and it not be reported to us until we’re substantially behind the game.”