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DEC INVESTIGATORS JOIN PROBE INTO CAUSE OF GAS LEAK AT VANDEMARK CHEMICAL PLANT

Investigators from the state Department of Environmental Conservation have joined the probe of a Sunday night gas leak at VanDeMark Chemical Co. that forced the temporary evacuation of up to 15 neighboring families.

Assistant Chief Jim Donner of the Lockport Fire Department said no residents were injured but one firefighter suffered throat and nasal irritation after exposure to an airborne gas.

Fire officials Monday identified the leaking chemical as propargyl chloroformate, which they said is not considered a highly toxic chemical.

The firefighter was released after treatment in Lockport Memorial Hospital and returned to assist at the scene, Donner said.

The Lockport Fire Department responded to a report of a hazardous material leak at the North Transit Road plant shortly before 9 p.m. and immediately initiated a telephone notification to evacuate nearby residents.

Between 12 and 15 families in an area bordered by North Transit and Old Niagara roads and Center and Plum streets were evacuated, Donner said, but then fire crews advised residents to remain indoors and to seek emergency treatment for any respiratory problems.

VanDeMark officials initially told police that a reactor at the plant had overheated, prompting a release into the air, Donner said. No official cause had been established as of Monday afternoon, he added.

"There was a hazardous material leaking into a scrubber -- which is what is supposed to happen," he said.

The scrubber would normally filter the material, he said, but so much was leaking that the scrubber became "overwhelmed," causing the discharge.

"They're still trying to figure out exactly what happened," Donner said. "The DEC has joined the investigation, and they'll be looking not only at what happened and why, but how it can be prevented from happening again."

Residents of the area were under no restrictions Monday afternoon, Donner said.

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