On the evening of October 26th, when temps were in the low 70’s and the residents of Metropolis, Illinois had been enjoying the warm Sunday night breeze, alarms began piercing the stillness as an emergency warning alerted that something bad was going down at the local Honeywell Uranium Processing Plant. In what would later be described by Honeywell as an “on-site leak” occurred at approximately 7:35 pm, just as night had fallen. Videos were widely shared by terrorized citizens of a large white cloud over the plant, while alarms continued to blare loudly and emergency vehicles gathered inside the gates. At some point that cloud drifted into neighboring communities.
Metropolis, known for its giant Superman Statue and quaint atmosphere, sits across the Ohio River from another infamous nuclear wasteland – the old Paducah Uranium Processing facility. Paducah was in the news late last year when a tornado just happened to plow through that facility and damaged multiple buildings still holding uranium that the U.S. Government still isn’t quite sure what to do with, since there is no long-term repository that exists in the United States, or really anywhere on the planet.
Seasoned Honeywell spokesman Peter Dalpe was quick to dismiss any concerns, something he gets a lot of practice doing fairly frequently. He stated that the “cloud” was just harmless water spray from “emergency systems that functioned exactly as they are designed to do” in the still undescribed accident. However, reports from locals in the surrounding areas described something far more concerning then just a residual water mist effect from a containment spray-down. Consider these first hand accounts of what transpired:
“When we called the plant to ask why the Honeywell sirens were going off the guards said to shelter in place, turn off air, & close windows.”
“It was shooting out like a geyser an hour ago… it has definitely left the property. I drove by it myself on the way to the casino and then turned around and took the interstate home… it reminded me of the geyser in STL as you go over the bridge… it was HUGE.”
“Just spoke to my mom who lives on Mt Mission Rd right past country club. She can smell something & heard sirens. Dad is currently is currently in chemo & other health issue effecting his immune system. Have they called for evacuations yet?”
“I live just past Joppa road and could smell it!”
“Well I live on Adkins in Metropolis and we could smell it.”
“It didn’t look contained to me, It was moving across 45 towards country club rd and smelled like polish remover!! I could see them spraying water on the building to the left at the front of the plant. I was just told that UF6 reacts violently with water, does anyone know if that is true?”
“Yep definitely fog because Honeywell says release was contained & we all know they never lie!!!!! Yeah OK!!”
“Peter Dalpe please don’t insult this community’s intelligence! I personally watched the plume of UF6 not only leave the building, but billow over the fence into the surrounding community for over 20 minutes!”
“I assume Honeywell let all the replacement workers know the company will pay for all their windshields that need to be replaced now as well as detailing all of their cars and trucks.”
“Contained? Yes in the lungs of all Massac citizens.”
Needless to say, this small sampling of first-hand accounts are extremely concerning, and contradicts everything that has been said so far by the media, and by the spokesman from the Honeywell plant. Not a single local news crew has interviewed or even visited any of the communities, although there were numerous postings on their Facebook pages, and witness accounts on their article pages last night and today.
The issue was further obscured when I tried to speak with the NRC hotline about the incident. They stated that the event at Honeywell was not an event that concerned them “as far as they are aware”, but that may change when the NRC inspectors arrive. He deferred all further questions to the Region II office in Atlanta, as they would be in-charge of the investigation. That didn’t make much sense, until fellow researcher Erica Grey shared the following document:
Here is an excerpt of its contents:
For the communities that live in the shadow of this enormous facility, it wouldn’t be the first time there were safety concerns, leaks, or even massive explosions that shook the ground for miles around.
Buzzfeed prophetically reported in early August that during the current lock-out, the union was concerned the workers they brought in didn’t have the proper experience to operate the facility safely.
“It’s unfortunate that the company wishes to put the community at risk and customer expectations in jeopardy when we are willing to continue to operate the plant while we work to reach a fair and equitable agreement,” USW Local 7-669 President Stephen Lech said in a statement.
But before we can try to understand what happened last night, let’s take a look at the track record for Honeywell Metropolis over the past few years:
In September of 2010, The Huffington Post reported a hydrogen release caused a loud explosion which could be heard and felt a mile away.
In March 2011, Buzzfeed reported that Honeywell had to pay a $11.8 million criminal fine for improperly storing hazardous waste.
Also in 2011, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the plant $119,000 for safety violations.
In January of this year, the plant was fined another $90,000 for “three dangerous releases of hydrogen fluoride.”
The Huntington Post stated about the explosive event in 2010:
On Saturday, nuclear regulators allowed Honeywell to start-up core production at the facility, where core production had been shut down for over two months due to concerns about the training of replacement workers. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission delayed reopening the plant for several days after questions were raised about the unusually high levels of uranium that were appearing in the urine tests of several nuclear workers.
The following day, a hydrogen explosion rocked the plant. The blast shook the ground in front of the plant and could be heard a mile away, according to local reports. State Trooper Bridget Rice said that police were called to investigate to the scene of the explosion after receiving several phone calls reporting an explosion at the plant. Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Roger Hannah also confirmed that there was indeed “a small hydrogen explosion that was very loud” at the Metropolis facility.
“Small explosion that was very loud” – LOL. Even more curious, was in addition to the workers with unusually high levels of uranium in their urine, even the NRC inspectors that visited the site at that time were found with unusually high levels of uranium in their urine! I mean, WTF!
Uranium hexafluoride (UF6), referred to as “hex” in the nuclear industry, is a compound used in the uranium enrichment process that produces fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons. It forms solid grey crystals at standard temperature and pressure, is highly toxic, reacts violently with water, and is corrosive to most metals.
The Honeywell plant splits hydrofluoric acid into hydrogen and fluoride. The hydrogen then gets scrubbed and released into the atmosphere and fluorine goes into the process. If the hydrogen and fluorine recombine, it can be very reactive and cause a non-radioactive hydrogen explosion. If a cask of uranium HEX gets dropped (such as the Halifax shipyard event in March 2014) the radioactive contents can get spread throughout the area where the accident occurs, contaminating everything it touches, including the unfortunate lungs that breathe it in.
It is now a full 24 hours since the accident at Honeywell, and we still don’t have any mainstream sources covering this story outside of the Honeywell press release of last night, stating everything was A-OK (besides the fact they were still trying to contain the problem inside their facility at that time). This is what we do know about the substances involved, courtesy of Rob Soltysik at Optimal Prediction:
“When UF6 is released into the atmosphere, it reacts with the moisture in the atmosphere to form uranyl fluoride (UO2F2) and hydrofluoric acid (HF)… The HF is a corrosive and irritating acid vapor that can severely harm the lungs and skin if exposed in sufficient concentration. The UO2F2 forms a particulate, which is very soluble in the lungs, and can be carried away by the wind and deposited onto the ground. As the released material was dispersed, an individual offsite could have been exposed to the plume carrying these chemicals. The plume, where it was highly concentrated, was visible and could be immediately irritating to the lungs. The immediate effects from the exposure of these chemicals are edema of the lungs, skin irritation from exposure to HF, and renal distress due to heavy metal (uranium) intake…
UO2F2 is a soluble form of uranium. Thus, the predominant target organ for the acute uranium intake as a result of this release is the kidney, and the toxicity is primarily chemical rather than radiological. When the UO2F2 particulates eventually deposit on the ground, the chronic effects from the intake of uranium through various pathways are from chemical toxicity as well as radioactivity.
Uranyl fluoride is corrosive, as well as hydrofluoric acid. Uranium (-238) is considered to be weakly radioactive. But it is an alpha emitter, and accumulates in the skeleton. It keeps accumulating for up to three years after exposure. Therefore, long-term effects from radiological toxicity can be expected, as well as short-term chemical toxicity.
Uranyl fluoride is also a neutron emitter. The neutrons come from the action of alpha particles on fluoride. (link) Since uranium is a weak alpha emitter, uranyl fluoride is also a weak neutron emitter. But, since neutron radiation causes chemicals in cells to become radioactive, the bone marrow turned radioactive from the uranium in the bones could cause bone cancer, leukemia, and immune system damage in the long run.”
What this means is that we have a radiation + chemical leak, that creates another very volatile chemical when water is poured onto it. How many of these substances drifted through the neighborhoods and into the open windows of Metropolis residents yesterday we still don’t know…and we may never find out. Dirty corporations have decades and decades of experience covering up these types of things for one simple reason – they cost big money to fix.
Late this afternoon, in an attempt to get answers, I spoke with the Metropolis Sheriff’s office. They said as far as what they have been told by Honeywell, there was NO escape of any substances beyond their property. I explained that doesn’t jive with what people in the surrounding areas have reported. He said “I don’t know why Honeywell wouldn’t tell people if it had escaped.” I told him “Because they will be on the hook for paying the medical bills for everyone in the community, plus the EPA fines for non-containment, which can be hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Apparently, he was not aware they have been fined for this in the past.
I left him my phone number if things start to get weird in the following days; people getting sick, reports of car damage (pitting of glass/paint) or whatever strangeness may occur. With a company like Honeywell, you never can tell what surprises await.
Anyone who lives in the area that had cars parked outside last night should check their windshields and the paint on their cars for pitting. If there is damage, even if it is very mild, DO NOT TOUCH THE CAR. Any breathing problems or other unusual symptoms in citizens or their children should seek immediate treatment at the nearest emergency room, and then find a good lawyer. I would recommend Erin Brockovich. This is no joke.
A situation like the blatant disinformation that occurred last night surrounding this incident, as well as pretty much every nuclear or chemical related accident that has ever happened in the history of the world, is precisely why you must take your own health and welfare seriously, and not rely on dishonest corporations and the media telling you what they think you need to know – or not know.
If you live around the Honeywell plant, and feel inclined at this point to give them a piece of your mind on this topic, here are several local news affiliates with their contact numbers and links, if they will even talk to you:
*WPSD local news submit a tip here: http://www.wpsdlocal6.com/
*ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH CONTACT INFORMATION
1416 Country Aire Drive
Carterville, IL 62918
Phone: (618) 985-2333
General Fax: (618) 985-3709
News Room Fax: (618) 985-6482
Or, send an email by using the form at this link: http://www.wsiltv.com/contact-us/
*WKMS Local News Radio
Give us a call:
Main Phone: (270) 809-4359 or (800) 599-4737
News Room: (270) 809-6793
Send us an email:
General Inquiry: Kathy Thweatt, firstname.lastname@example.org
News Room: Chad Lampe, email@example.com
Station Manager: Kate Lochte, firstname.lastname@example.org
Program Director: Tracy Ross, email@example.com http://wkms.org/contact-wkms
Good Luck to anyone who lives in this area, or around any nuclear facility for that matter. This isn’t the first accident at Honeywell, and it certainly won’t be the last.
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