News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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February 12, 2014

WTH water update almost complete

Town eliminating chemical that leaked near school

WEST TERRE HAUTE — The West Terre Haute Water Works didn’t waste any time in its efforts to make the water treatment system safer, especially because it is so close to West Vigo Elementary.

A small chlorine gas leak Friday caused a scare and prompted the Vigo County School Corp. to evacuate West Vigo students to Sugar Creek Consolidated Elementary, even though testing showed it was safe for students and staff to remain at West Vigo.

The leak occurred at a small structure about 150 yards east of the school, where chlorine was injected into the water system.  The leak, caused by a mechanical failure, released chlorine gas outside, officials said.

Had the leak occurred within the structure, an alarm system would have notified town officials.

Changes were made Saturday to make the system safer, said Chuck Stranahan, water works superintendent. The system now uses a chemical, sodium hypochlorite, that is 12 percent chlorine. “It’s a much safer chemical,” he said. Bleach used for laundry is about 5 percent chlorine, he said.

Previously, what the water works used was “100 percent chlorine,” he said. “That accident will never happen again.”

When the incident occurred Friday, about 70 pounds of chlorine was released, Stranahan said, and he had to notify state and federal environmental authorities.

He lives nearby and smelled the chlorine. The Sugar Creek Fire Department quickly arrived on scene, shut off the chlorine and notified school officials to shut down West Vigo’s HVAC system.

Stranahan has grandchildren who attend West Vigo Elementary, he said.

Previously, there were four cylinders in the concrete structure, each with 150 pounds of chlorine. Two were required as backup for the others, he said.

Those cylinders have been removed, and the structure now has two 30-gallon barrels of the new chemical. The injection points are the same, but there is a different delivery system.

Further changes — including a larger tank to hold the chemical — will take place after engineers review what’s been done, Stranahan said. Once modifications are completed, he estimated the total cost would likely be under $7,000.

A boil order was lifted Wednesday.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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