Barton Battles Plant Blaze – Again


A fire Monday involving totes and drums of solvents at the Des Moines, Iowa, area plant of industrial chemicals distributor Barton Solvents forced temporary evacuation of a nearby business and closure of an Interstate before firefighters from 10 local departments brought the blaze under control.

This is the second fire Barton has battled this year. In July, a fire at the companys Valley Center, Kan. plant forced evacuation of a surrounding rural town and resulted in the loss of 235,000 gallons of industrial chemicals and base oils stored at the five-acre site.

According to Dennis Appelhons, an environmental specialist in the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the latest fire started about noon on Monday at the plant, which is just northeast of Des Moines. Firefighters had it under control by about 8 p.m. Several employees were transferring a chemical from a large bulk tank to a smaller tote, Appelhons told Lube Report. Were not sure of the cause yet – investigation by other authorities here isnt complete. Theyre looking at maybe a possible spark or ignition source during that transfer operation.

One of the two workers incurred minor injuries, Appelhons said, and was treated and released. No one else was injured, and all employees were accounted for and evacuated from the plant site, he added.

Appelhons said Des Moines-based Barton, whose facility was still without power yesterday, is compiling a list of which specific solvents were involved in the fire to then send to the DNR.

Most of it was in 330-gallon totes and 55-gallon drums, Appelhons said. Barton has several contractors on site right now, and as they move through the debris and salvage it out theyll probably have a better idea. Right now we dont have a good idea about the total volume. Barton has hired United States Environmental Services of Goodlettsville, Tenn., to assess damage from the fire and cleanup needs. In addition, Barton sub-contractor Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, of North Little Rock, Ark., is monitoring air quality.

Among the solvents Barton handles are acetone and polyaromatic hydrocarbons. All of these are pretty volatile, Appelhons said. Most of our physical evidence so far indicates the fire may have pretty much incinerated or vaporized a lot of these chemicals upon release.

The fire caused the closing of portions of Interstate 35 for two hours because of smoke plumes interfering with driver visibility. Appelhons said it also forced evacuations of neighboring facilities though the evacuees have since been allowed to return.

We had a couple of commercial facilities just to the west of Bartons facility, and those were evacuated yesterday [Monday] around 2 p.m., he said. Prior to that, we had pretty much all our respond units on the property near itself.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources officials were on-site Tuesday, sampling soil and water for potential contamination. They expect lab results later this week. Polk County monitored air quality Monday during the fire, and Initial tests Monday showed that smoke from the fire could irritate the lungs, but that it was not toxic.

Thankfully, we expect the impact of the fire on soil and water to be minimal, said Appelhons. Our area firefighters did an excellent job not only in containing the fire, but in making sure that contaminated water from the fire was not reaching streams.

In addition to solvents, Barton handles industrial lubricants, including some base oils, hydraulic oils and food-grade oils. It has distribution facilities in Iowa, Wisconsin and Kansas. The company provides custom liquid blending, food-grade packaging and laboratory services to customers in 13 states in the Midwest.

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