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Barton Solvent's Plant Explosion Tanks Never Inspected for Fire Hazards

Jul 23, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP The storage tanks involved in the Barton Solvent's Plant explosion in Valley Center, Kansas last Tuesday had not been inspected for fire dangers, and that is prompting one local official to demand change.  Sedgwick County Fire Marshall Tim Millspaugh called on Kansas State leaders to change laws that allow tanker farms like the Barton Solvent’s Plant to avoid fire danger inspections.  Millspaugh said that no such inspections had been done at the Valley Center plant because state law does not allow for them.

The Barton explosion resulted in the evacuation of more than 200 people in the Wichita suburb.  During the fire, all of the plant’s 44 storage tanks burned along with 660,000 gallons of chemicals.  The tanks held hydrocarbons, ketones, alcohol and other chemicals used in the paint and coatings industry.  Witnesses said that during  the fire, black smoke shot more than 200 feet into the air, and that at least 15 smaller blasts could be heard.  Twelve people were treated at an area hospital for minor injuries.  Barton Solvents said that the tanks had been inspected regularly by the company’s insurer, and that the tanks in Valley Center had passed a structural integrity test back in 2004.

Barton’s management said that the blast was started by static electricity as workers filled one tank with dry cleaning fluid.   The U.S Chemical Safety Board said last Thursday that it would be sending investigators to the Barton Plant to look into the explosion.  The plant is owned by Barton Solvents, a Des Moines, Iowa distributor of industrial chemicals, oils, surfactants, and plasticizers.  

Barton Solvents also announced that it was working on a reimbursement plan to assist those who were displaced during the evacuation.  The company urged residents to retain receipts for food, hotels and other expenses incurred during their time away from home.  The company also said that it would not lay off any of the plant’s 22 employees, and plans on rebuilding on the same site if regulators approve the plan.

Valley Center officials conceded that cleanup of the blast site was proceeding slowly, mainly because much of the equipment and personnel they needed was held up in Coffeyville, Kansas.  That town was the site of a massive oil spill and flood earlier this month.   Barton said that berms had been built around the burned tanks to prevent runoff of chemicals, and contaminated soil was being removed from adjacent properties.

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