Enviro-Tank blast injures three near Belpre

BELPRE – A Ravenswood man is in critical condition after an explosion and fire Tuesday morning at Enviro-Tank Clean Inc. on Ohio 7.

Kevin S. McClain, 32, was one of three people injured in the blast, which occurred around 8:50 a.m. It shook buildings and homes and could be heard several miles away.

The Ohio State Fire Marshal’s Office determined it was caused by an excessive amount of gasoline vapor in an area where there were multiple potential ignition sources, said Lindsey Burnworth, public information officer for the Ohio State Fire Marshal.

“The investigators have concluded a truck containing a mixture of water and gasoline was off-loading into a larger storage tank,” she said.

The explosion was ruled an accident, Burnworth said.

McClain was taken to Camden Clark Medical Center’s Memorial Campus before being flown by medical helicopter to the burn center at Cabell Huntington Hospital in Huntington. A nursing supervisor said Tuesday evening that he was in critical condition.

McClain is an employee of BBU Services of West Virginia, a Kenna-based environmental construction contractor. The gasoline-water mixture was being unloaded from a BBU truck, said Ray Lutes, vice president of Enviro-Tank.

According to a release from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the other workers injured were Justin A. Flesher, 33, and Fred E. Johnston, 53, both Enviro-Tank employees who live in Belpre. Flesher sustained burns on his left arm and was treated and released from Marietta Memorial Hospital. Johnston suffered burns to his face, hair, arms and chest and was treated and released from Camden Clark’s Memorial Campus.

Enviro-Tank is an industrial wastewater treatment company at 12381 State Route 7 in Dunham Township. The gasoline-water mix is a common substance for them to treat, Lutes said. He did not immediately know from where the material came, but said it was likely related to the petroleum industry, perhaps a gas station.

“Everybody’s just in shock more than anything,” Lutes said. “We’ve been in operation since 1990, and we’ve never had an explosion.”

Eva Brookover, 86, lives on Joe Skinner Road, almost directly across Route 7 from the plant. She initially thought the explosion – which she described as “the loudest boom I’ve ever heard” – came from her basement.

“It didn’t rattle anything,” she said. “I was walking toward the kitchen and for a second it felt like the floor went up and down.”

Brookover said she called a neighbor who also had heard the explosion, but she didn’t realize what it was until she was outside.

“The trees hide the view” of the plant, Brookover said. “I didn’t see the smoke until I got out on the road in the car.”

Matthew Trezza, who lives near the site, was driving on Ohio 7 when he heard the explosion shortly before 9 a.m.

“We heard the boom and so did a lot of other people,” said Trezza, who returned to the site to see if anyone was hurt.

Flames were coming from a tank and started to move into other areas, he said

“It just spread,” said Trezza, who took numerous photos of the fire from a railroad line.

The blast was felt at Skyline Steel, located just south of Enviro-Tank off the same access road. Skyline employee Tim Carpenter said he felt the windows rattling and heard a sound he couldn’t identify at first.

“I thought somebody dropped a coil here. When you sit down a coil, it’ll make a thud,” he said.

Little Hocking Volunteer Fire Chief Mike Chevalier was the first first responder on the scene.

“They had heavy smoke and fire from the far end of the building,” he said.

Chevalier said the fire was under control in about 40 minutes. First responsders shut down a section of southbound Ohio 7 and ordered people in the northbound lane to move out of the area due to fears of another potential explosion.

All lanes were reopened by 10:45 a.m., according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

The fire marshal’s office completed its investigation Tuesday, but Burnworth said the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration had people on scene into the afternoon. Enviro-Tank and BBU will conduct their own investigations, according to Lutes and BBU co-owner David Ray.

Lutes said Enviro-Tank will be back up and running today.

“We’re able to operate full steam on everything except the area where the explosion took place,” he said.

The company treats non-hazardous wastewater from industrial sites that municipal water systems cannot accept. The Belpre site has been treating runoff from the Freedom Industries site where a chemical leak fouled the water supply of 300,000 West Virginians earlier this year.

Other substances treated at the site include drilling mud, such as from horizontal drilling operations, and bio sludge.

The Marietta Fire Department sent a hazardous materials team to the plant as a precaution, Marietta Fire Chief C.W. Durham said. No hazardous materials escaped the site and there was no threat posed to the surrounding communities, he said.

Durham said Washington County Emergency Management Agency Director Jeff Lauer was feeding him information on what types of chemicals were stored at the plant.

Firefighters went through a decontamination process when they were finished in the “hot zone,” Durham said.

“Ours was more of a precautionary (measure) because we knew what was in the building,” he said. “There was no confirmed exposure of any sort.”

Ohio EPA spokeswoman Linda Oros said Tuesday afternoon that all the fire runoff appeared to have been contained at the on-site treatment plant. After it is treated, that water is discharged into the City of Belpre’s wastewater treatment system, where it is treated again.

(Writers Larry Cox and Jasmine Rogers contributed.)