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Wis. Workers Begin Chemical Removal

December 19, 2000

OSHKOSH, Wis. (AP) _ Emergency workers wearing gas masks removed burned chemicals from a boxcar Monday and promised hundreds of people driven from their homes by harmful fumes that the work could be done by Tuesday, clearing the way for them to return home.

``We are going to work through the night to get things done,″ Oshkosh Fire Chief Tim Franz told about 100 people at Wittman Airport.

About 750 homes were evacuated Saturday after the railroad boxcar loaded with 141,000 pounds of sodium hydrosulfite, a highly flammable chemical, caught fire.

Officials allowed about a third of those evacuated to return home later Monday, with the rest starting to return as early as Tuesday morning, Oshkosh Fire Department spokesman John Holland said.

Pam Drexler pleaded with emergency officials to allow her to return to her mother’s house in the evacuation area so she could get her clothes for a flight home to Seattle. ``I realize you are doing this for our health, but I need to do this so I can get home,″ she said.

Workers at some businesses were allowed into the area Monday because they could be removed quickly if new problems developed, Franz said.

Tim Hughes of Parnells Restaurant and Lounge said the evacuation was jeopardizing his schedule of catered Christmas parties for at least 1,000 people over the next few days.

``I understand they are doing the best they can,″ Hughes said. ``They are feeling my food might be contaminated, but so is everybody else’s.″

The chemical, used as a bleaching agent for making paper, was being removed from the boxcar, put in tanks and mixed with a liquid for proper disposal, fire officials said.

There were no reports of serious injuries.

Emergency workers said a winter storm and heavy winds moving through the area Monday helped to dissipate the noxious fumes, which can cause respiratory problems.

Mike Lawson, a product specialist for Clariant Corp., the North Carolina-based company that manufactures the chemical, said eight of the 32 chemical containers had been removed from the boxcar by Monday afternoon.

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On the Net:

Hydrite Chemical: http://www.hydrite.com

Clariant Corp.: http://www.clariant.com

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