Ford Motor Co. is grappling with a chemical spill at its Avon Lake Assembly plant that could potentially result in thousands of gallons of material being sent into Lake Erie.
“We have an emergency response team on-site to address an accidental release of a chemical used in the paint process into a storm sewer leading to Lake Erie,” a Ford spokeswoman said in an e-mail.
“We have identified and eliminated the source of the leak and do not expect additional e-coat to enter the storm sewer. We are working with authorities to contain it as quickly as possible. We are absolutely committed to the health and safety of our community and ensuring our properties meet environmental requirements,” Ford’s statement added.
There is no estimate yet of the cost of spill.
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The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency estimated some 5,000 gallons of the chemical, which is composed of three parts deionized water and one part e-coat and used in rust-proofing vehicles, was discharged from a 50,000-gallon holding tank on Ford’s property because of a valve failure.
An unknown amount the chemical mixture made it into the lake, but the rest was being collected along the storm sewer. He said an estimated 60,000 gallons of water has been collected for treatment and disposal.
The cleanup of the e-coat mixture could take several days, the Ohio EPA said.
Avon Lake Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Moore told a local newspaper in Elyria, Ohio, that the leak of e-coat isn’t considered “overly toxic” to humans and isn’t a water pollutant. However, the material would be irritating if it were to come into contact with human skin, he said.
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Moore said at this point the chemical spill isn’t considered a health hazard to humans because there is no public beach near the spill. The city’s water plant is monitoring its water intake, but he doesn’t expect that to be a problem because the water at the area tends to flow west, while the water plant is to the east of the spill.
The spill was detected by the plant on Saturday afternoon, but workers didn’t realize until late Saturday or early Sunday that it was flowing into the lake, the said.
The discharge from the Ford plant in Avon Lake was in a portion of the lake most threatened by pollution from urban areas, industry and from farming that uses chemical fertilizers.
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The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has issued detailed bulletins, noting that the lake’s “hypoxic zone” or area lacking oxygen can be as large as 10,000 square kilometers, altering the lake ecosystem from July to October. These low oxygen areas are often referred to as “dead zones,” because many mobile organisms leave the hypoxic zone and many sessile organisms die without adequate oxygen.