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Firefighters and other emergency units were called to New Jersey's Passaic Valley Water Commission treatment plant early on July 17, after several drums at the facility overheated and started leaking hydrogen peroxide. The drums were sprayed with water to cool them down and officials from several agencies evaluated the situation at the plant, NorthJersey.com reported.
Joe Bella, executive director of the Passaic Valley Water Commission, explained that an employee at the plant noticed that eight of the nine drums at the containment area were "fuming and venting," most likely because of the heatwave in the area. When workers at the treatment plant could not manage the situation, they requested help from local authorities.
In order to ensure that the situation was kept under control, emergency units from nearby towns were sent to Totowa. According to a statement issued by Passaic County Sheriff Richard Berdnik there was no danger to the public, as hazardous material crews had successfully contained the chemical.
Totowa Fire Chief Vincent Marciano explained that his team was the first one on the scene, where firefighters saw the drums of hydrogen peroxide "in a vaporized state." After hazardous materials officials also arrived at the plant, additional water supplies had to be delivered to the facility to keep temperatures of the drums low, he said.
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Bill Maer, spokesman for Sheriff Berdnik, added that the emergency teams used an Andros robot with a movable arm that opened up the barrels and pushed them into a storage tank. After that, two firetrucks hosed the barrels down one by one, diluting the hydrogen peroxide and eliminating any risks of a spill. The drums could not have caused an explosion, officials at the treatment plant said.
Hydrogen peroxide is a chemical that most water treatment plants use in low quantities to remove odors and tastes during the water treatment process, Bella explained. The Totowa plant treats water from the Passaic and Pompton rivers and provides drinking water to 750,000 customers in Paterson, Passaic, Clifton and other towns.
Over the next few weeks the Passaic Valley Water Commission will investigate the cause of the chemical release, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). A spokesperson for the DEP also confirmed that there was no risk of contamination in the area.
Meanwhile, Bella said that the same barrels were noticed leaking earlier last week and the commission had to hire a team to clean up the spill. After the second leak, the same company will be taking the drums to a specialized site where they will be neutralized before they are returned to the plant.
Water supply to the commission's customers has not been affected by the incident and there is no threat to the Passaic River, Bella added. The chemical release was contained within a few hours and mitigating procedures were put in action. Clean-up efforts at the treatment plant are continuing.