Cleanup complete after chemical leak sparked jail evacuation

POLK COUNTY, N.C. (WSPA) – The cleanup is complete at the Polk County Sheriff’s building after a hazardous chemical leak sparked evacuations. Air 7 video shows the massive emergency response effort at the Polk County Sheriff’s building.

“You treat every hazmat situation like it’s the worst case scenario and you hope for the best,” said Polk County Emergency Management Director Bobby Arledge. This scenario is the type he says needed immediate attention.

“Jail said they had a package that was leaking,” he said. “As soon as we figured out what it was we immediately evacuated the jail.” The chemical was “paraquat dichloride.” Arlegde says up to 25 employees may have come into contact with the potentially fatal product.

“It’s very toxic if you ingest it or get it on your skin,” he said. “It’s very deadly.”

This toxic chemical is one of the world’s most used herbicides, according to Scott Welborn at the NC State Extension office in Polk County.

“Not unlike a lot of other weed killers but it’s typically not used by a homeowner,” said N.C. State Polk Co. Extension Director Scott Welborn. He says it’s mostly used by commercial farmers harvesting bean crops. “You could see it used in Polk County and in Western North Carolina but you’re going to find it more in flat lands.”

The chemical was evidence being returned to the sheriff’s building from FBI testing.

“They opened the box it was shipped in and noticed it had been leaking,” said Arledge. That moment sparked evacuations and an intensive cleanup that lasted until about 5:00 p.m. Crews from Asheville and Greenville were brought in to assist. “Securing the product, checking the building making sure there’s no residue left.”

It’s an emergency he says crews are trained for. “A lot of training between the agencies that comes in handy for something like this,” said Arledge.

Inmates were housed in Rutherford and Henderson Counties during and after the Tuesday evacuations and returned Wednesday around 4 p.m. None of the employees or inmates were hurt during the scare.

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