Propane leak prompts evacuation

Friday, October 19, 2012

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

Nearly 200 people were evacuated and 600 motorists were detoured Tuesday morning in Lewisburg because of propane leaking from a hose valve at an AmeriGas tank along the south side of CSX railroad tracks accessed from Spring Place Road.

A state highway construction contractor's worker on South Ellington Parkway called authorities and Lewisburg Gas Department Manager Leroy Mullins was notified at 7:12 a.m., Lewisburg Fire Chief Larry Williams reported. Mullins found the tank owned by Heritage Propane and called the fire department.

The area between Spring Place Road and Belfast Avenue was blocked, Williams said. CSX stopped train traffic. Police and firefighters went door to door clearing buildings including Burk Building Supply, Blaylock Plumbing and Heating, the Co-op, its tire store, Ace Hardware, Childress Concrete, H&R Block, the Farm Center and Handi Mart. Evacuation started at 8:01 a.m. and was completed at 8:22 a.m.

At corporate headquarters in Valley Forge, Pa., AmeriGas Propane spokesman Bill Katz said, "Our first responders were service technicians Keith Smith and Larry Smith. They're not related. They were able to adjust the valve that had been leaking. Through wear, the mechanism had lost its tight fit. This was a very slow loss of gas; less than two gallons over more than three days."

Light to variable winds were east to southeast Tuesday morning when the road construction worker smelled ethyl mercaptan odorant that's added to gas that's otherwise odorless. It smells like rotten eggs.

"Depending on the atmospheric conditions, it doesn't take much for someone to smell it. You want it to be detected so you can check it out," Katz said. "We certainly apologize for the inconvenience."

Also affected was the Marshall County Emergency Medical Service that evacuated its headquarters on Spring Place Road, transferred emergency calling to the Sheriff's Department and moved ambulances to the fire hall on Water Street.

The AmeriGas distribution company had delivered propane to the storage tank several days earlier and the company concluded there was a valve seat malfunction, Katz said. The tank has a valve and the hose used to load and release the tank has a valve. The tank's valve was in perfect condition. The hose's valve had to be and was replaced Tuesday.

"The amount of leakage was considerably less than the contents of one barbecue cylinder," Katz said. The leaked gas was what was left in the hose. The city's response was "good and appropriate," Katz said.