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Chlorine Leaves Damage

By Staff | Sep 7, 2016

HANNIBAL – Bob Heslep expertly guided his forklift Thursday morning to unload a truck filled with fresh mums that were delivered to the Hannibal Garden Center.

Heslep wasn’t filling a new order, or even adding to his current stock. Instead, he was replacing inventory he said was lost Aug. 27 when a chemical vapor cloud crossed the Ohio River from the Axiall Corp. plant and killed his plants.

Located near Hannibal, the popular garden center along Ohio 7 saw much of its stock affected by the chlorine leak at Axiall. Heslep said it was important for the company to get new plants in now instead of hoping those damaged would bloom again next spring.

“Thousands of our mums were destroyed by the chlorine gas,” Heslep, owner/manager of the garden center, said. “We’re just going to have to throw them out.”

Portions of W.Va. 2 and Ohio 7 were shutdown for several hours after thousands of gallons of liquid chlorine leaked from a railcar inside Axiall’s Natrium plant near Proctor. The leak forced many residents in both Marshall and Wetzel counties to evacuate their homes for several hours, while two workers were hospitalized and released.

Heslep said local fire departments told him he and his employees should immediately evacuate from the garden center.

Heslep shook his head as he said, “We were working that morning – we had to leave.”

The garden center has since reopened and restocked many of the damaged plants and flowers.

When chlorine gas combines with water, Heslep said, it becomes hydrochloric acid which is toxic to plants, animals and people. Every so often, motorists can spot trees or plants along the river that appear a little more brown than they should at the outset of fall. Plants that may have had a light coating of morning dew were more affected than those that had been in the sunlight, he said.

Heslep said the garden center’s mums, annuals and perennials that were affected by the chlorine may take too long to recover and bloom again, so they are being thrown out and/or turned into compost.

The gas cloud forced emergency officials on both sides of the Ohio River to evacuate numerous homes and close portions of Ohio 7 and W.Va. 2.

During the chemical spill, some patients at Wetzel Hospital were sent to Sistersville General Hospital. SGH CEO John May confirmed that the hospital received four patients in its Emergency Department as a result of the chlorine leak.

“We treated one for chlorine exposure,” he said. “The other three were diverted here from Wetzel during the event and were treated for unrelated maladies. I believe that this underscores our belief that an emergency department in Sistersville is vital to the health of our community.”

Some of those that were forced to evacuate are now suing the chemical producer.

Jim Bordas of Bordas & Bordas filed a complaint Thursday in Marshall County Circuit Court on behalf of Proctor area residents Tim and Rhonda Bohrer and Roy and Darlene Yoho. And on Friday, the Gold, Khourey & Turak law firm and Guida Law Offices filed seven more lawsuits in Marshall County Circuit Court as a result of Axiall Corporation’s chlorine leak.

“Many residents have suffered significant loss to their property and, in some cases, there are residents concerned for the health of their children as a result of inhaling the gas,” said attorney Jonathan Turak. “They are worried and scared, and we are helping them through the process. Our offices have been busy handling calls, and we will be filing additional lawsuits.”