KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Around noon on Friday, Eastman Chemical Company officials notified local authorities that they were aware of a release of iodine vapors on their campus, roughly an hour after the vapors may have been first spotted.
In photos sent to News Channel 11, the purple substance can be seen billowing from the site’s flare as early as 11:02 a.m. Kingsport officials were told about the substance roughly an hour after that image was taken, and an alert was issued.
As part of that alert, Kingsport officials notified nearby residents through Hyper-Reach, an emergency communication platform that focuses on community and weather awareness.
At 12:30 p.m., a voicemail was sent out to enrolled residents that stated Eastman officials told the city that they did not have “reason to believe there [was] a threat on-site or outside of the plant.”
In the chemical release that caused the alert, Eastman officials first confirmed that Iodine was released into the air after a power outage, which had caused a purple plume to appear over the company’s campus. According to Eastman, the leak had been contained prior to the noon press release.
“The first notification of the event from Eastman to Kingsport Central Dispatch was received at 10:17 AM,” Tom Patton, public information officer for the Kingsport Police Department (KPD) said. “At that time, Eastman requested for one KFD engine to respond to the Eastman Fire Department to stand by in reference to a power outage.”
A release from the KPD states that firefighters arrived at 10:31 a.m. The fire department did not clear the scene until 3:31 p.m.
Shortly before 11 a.m., Eastman released its first public statement, announcing that a power outage had occurred. Patton specified that at 10:50 a.m., Kingsport’s city manager activated the Emergency Operations Center at central dispatch.
“Over the next hour, Police, Fire, EMA, and City government personnel worked to gather additional information, relying extensively upon Eastman to provide that information, and then plan accordingly,” the KPD reported in a press release. “The information that Eastman communicated in their public statements mirrored what they relayed to Kingsport Central Dispatch and was received by Central Dispatch along the same timeframe as their statements were shared publicly.”
Eastman publicly announced at 12:11 p.m. that iodine had been released, resulting in the purple plumes being visible. At 3:45 p.m., Eastman revealed that methyl iodide had also been released, along with oil into the nearby South Fork of the Holston River.
“In situations such as this, city officials rely heavily upon subject matter experts at Eastman to provide them with accurate and timely information that can in turn be shared with the public. Based upon information city officials have received, Eastman has given no indication of any injuries, a threat onsite or outside of the plant, or a risk to the community as a result of this incident.”Tom Patton, Public Information Officer of the Kingsport Police Department
“The Hyper-Reach automated community notification alert message was sent from Kingsport Central Dispatch to every landline and cell phone within a 10-mile radius of Eastman,” Patton said. “Delivery of that message is still in progress and will take some time to reach all intended recipients.”
The alert informed enrolled residents that an “event” had occurred at Eastman and asked that people avoid the area for traffic reasons.
The line played a large part in Eastman’s last major community scare, in which debris that may have contained asbestos was scattered throughout nearby neighborhoods after a steam line failure. After several area residents expressed concern that they were unaware of potentially hazardous material piling up on their yards, homes and vehicles, city officials encouraged all residents to enroll.
Landline numbers registered within city limits are automatically subscribed to alerts, but those who only use mobile phones must visit the city’s online page to add their name to the list.
A redesigned alert system that went into effect in April allows the city to reach significantly more residents based on their geolocation data, which includes an automated alert seen on some phones after they drove into the affected area.