Ensure leaks are stopped

Two serious chemical leaks within two weeks at St. Clairsville’s wastewater treatment plant constitutes an emergency.

Just two weeks ago, a sulfur dioxide leak at the plant forced evacuations of some people living near it. Personnel from several fire departments responded.

Then Monday, a chlorine leak was reported. The Belmont County Hazardous Materials Team, with leadership from the Neffs Fire Department, along with other firefighters, responded. People living near the plant were urged to shelter in place.

An engineering firm and another contractor were brought in to determine what caused the leak and, presumably, correct the problem.

Both chemicals are used in the final process of treating wastewater before it is released. The segment of processing was being suspended.

Obviously, the immediate concern in both incidents was finding and containing the leaks. But another pressing question needs to be addressed: Does the entire system using chlorine and sulfur dioxide need to be replaced?

Scott Brown, director of the plant, told our reporter a $2 million upgrade was completed last year. It did not include the chlorine/sulfur dioxide equipment, however. The machinery was installed when the building itself was constructed, in 1983.

That was 34 years ago. Has the equipment aged to the point that, as a system, it is unsafe? Or were the two leaks in two weeks just a fluke, requiring only repairs to storage tanks?

Both chlorine and sulfur dioxide are dangerous chemicals. Thank heaven plant workers, emergency responders and people living near the facility were not injured.

Now that the crisis is over, ensuring there is no “next time” needs to be city officials’ top priority.