BETHLEHEM — The state Department of Environmental Conservation continues to monitor a chemical gas leak from a stationary rail car at the SABIC Innovative Chemicals facility in Albany County.
First reported early Tuesday morning, the leak led to the evacuation of non-essential businesses within a half-mile of the facility, a shelter in place order for those within 1 mile of the area and several road closures this week. The evacuation, shelter in place order and closures were lifted Wednesday morning.
Bethlehem Police and Selkirk Fire departments responded to the incident after an unknown amount of styrene monomer leaked from a tanker on the SABIC property for about an hour, according to the response team, which is comprised of dozens of local and state agencies. Styrene at the facility in Selkirk, a hamlet of Bethlehem, is used in the plastics manufacturing process.
“While this is an evolving situation, it is currently under control, and we will continue coordinating with local officials and mobilize any resources necessary to protect the health and safety of New Yorkers in the affected area,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement.
Founded in 1976 as a petrochemical manufacturer, SABIC is one of the world’s largest corporations of its kind, based in Saudi Arabia with facilities in more than 50 countries, according to the company’s website.
The Environmental Protection Agency lists styrene as one of 187 hazardous air pollutants regulated by the federal Clean Air Act. Styrene vapor can cause skin, eye and upper respiratory tract irritation, and prolonged exposure can affect the central nervous system. In May, at least 13 people died and hundreds were injured after a styrene leak at a petrochemical facility in India. No injuries have been reported from the Selkirk incident.
Crews worked through Tuesday night to stabilize the tanker car and seal the safety release valve believed to have been the source of the leak. DEC Emergency Spills and Response staff, the state Office of Emergency Management, state police, the Office of Fire Prevention and Control and the Department of Transportation were all called to the area by Gov. Cuomo.
Using drone technology, responders have been monitoring the tanker’s internal temperature and pressure while others cool the tanker with water to neutralize the system and prevent any explosive reaction.
As of Wednesday afternoon, nine air monitors set up around the site report styrene levels below health advisory thresholds, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said.
Officials will continue to monitor the site for environmental and public health impacts and longterm containment.