West Virginia chemical plant blast kills 1, injures 3

By John Raby, The Associated Press, Charleston West Virginia   

Operations Production Chemicals chemical fire plant

Optima Chemicals employee lost in tragedy last week

An explosion and fire at a West Virginia chemical plant that shook surrounding homes killed a plant worker and injured three other people last week.

It happened after 10 p.m. on Tuesday, December 8th at Optima Chemicals Co., a tenant on the Chemours property site in the Kanawha County community of Belle, Chemours said in a statement. Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper said one person died Wednesday. In a statement, the victim’s family identified him as plant worker John Gillenwater of Hurricane.

“The family is devastated over the loss of their husband, father and friend John Gillenwater,” the statement said. “John was beloved by many in his community and his church.

Among the injured, another plant worker was hurt and one person was hit by debris. Officials believe the explosion involved chlorinated dry bleach and methanol, Carper said.


People who lived in the area reported their houses shook. Emergency officials announced a shelter-in-place order for 2 miles (3 kilometres) around the plant and a nearby road was closed before firefighters were able to extinguish the flames and allow people to move around.

Belle Mayor David Fletcher, who also is a volunteer firefighter, said the blaze was extinguished before midnight.

Chemours formed as a spinoff from DuPont in 2015. Optima Chemical was established in 1991 from the chemical division of AFF. The 723-acre (293-hectare) site is located along the Kanawha River about 10 miles (16 kilometres) southeast of Charleston. The town of Belle has about 1,100 residents.



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