By Ron Leir
What will stand out in Dan Nicolette’s memory about last Sunday’s chemical spill across the street from his Schuyler Ave. apartment is his 2-yearold daughter bursting into tears because she couldn’t sleep in her own bed.
“When she was crying, ‘I want to go home,’ the pain for me was absolutely horrible,” the Lyndhurst resident said. “That hurt more than anything.”
Sometime that afternoon, there was an unexpected release of a substance, identified by officials as adipic acid, from Polyurethane Specialties, 624 Schuyler Ave., makers of polyester and urethane products.
And, coincidentally, around the same time, another spill – of anhydrous ammonia – happened in neighboring North Arlington at the Temperature Processing plant, 220 River Road, whose operations involve the heat-treating of metals, according to a company web site. Some 25 homes were evacuated in a one-to two-block area around the plant, according to Mayor Peter Massa. One volunteer firefighter suffered what Massa characterized as a “slight burning of the eyes.”
Asked about the Lyndhurst incident, Anthony Decandi, coordinator for Bergen County Haz-Mat, said that an “unpermitted discharge” took the form of a “particulate fine powder” that “spread around” the plant and environs and, when exposed to human skin, can be a “mild irritant” which can cause a rash and lead to “scratching and itching” but is “not life threatening.”
How the release happened Decandi couldn’t say but Lyndhurst Police Chief James O’Connor, who also serves as emergency management coordinator, traced the cause to a “broken coupling on the roof on a 3-inch feeder pipe.”
Police first learned about the incident at about 2:30 p.m. when neighbors reported seeing what looked like white smoke spiraling from the roof of the plant, O’Connor said.
Lyndhurst Volunteer Fire Department and EMS units responded, along with Bergen County Haz-Mat, and learned from nearby residents of TM Gardens condominiums, 619-635 Schuyler Ave., that the powder had gotten inside their units through their windows which they’d left open due to the warm temperatures. Many had left their homes to enjoy the fine weather, as had the Nicolette family.
“My windows on the west side of the building were wide open,” Nicolette said. “We’d been out all day in the park; then we come home to find our street being closed. The Fire Department said, ‘Don’t take your daughter out of your car.’ We were not permitted into our residence. I took my wife and daughter to my in-laws.”
Residents were directed to a nearby self-storage unit which police had commandeered as a staging area for a mobile command post where, O’Connor said, they sought to inform residents about the situation.
“We wanted to make sure no one panicked,” the chief said.
“I believe only one person went to a hospital but I think it was more stress-related than environmental,” O’Connor said.
It wasn’t until “three or four hours” after the Nicolettes first drove up the driveway to their condo that the Fire Department allowed him to enter his second-floor apartment, where he detected traces of a film-like material that “looked like fiberglass” on his windows, Nicolette said. “It smelled sweet – like candy cane. … I was told that it was not going to burn my skin off.”
Emergency workers advised him not to take anything left out in the open so Nicolette “packed up some clothes from closed drawers,” and drove to his in-laws.
By 8 or 9 p.m., by Nicolette’s recollection, Polyurethane Specialties had arranged for Servpro, a Middlesex County cleaning/ restoration firm, to come to the plant to check out the situation and devise a cleanup strategy.
At 12:15 a.m. Nicolette got a call from Lyndhurst Police advising him to report to the command post at 8:30 a.m. along with other residents which he did. Nicolette said residents were told they’d have to contact their private home insurance companies to arrange for their units to be cleaned. But, several hours later, those instructions were changed: Servpro would do the job, after all. “There was no time frame but it was going to happen,” he said.
Later, Lyndhurst Police alerted residents of Elizabeth Ave., Louise Court, Olive St., First St. and Schuyler Ave. (between Kingsland and Union Aves.) and Ten Eyck Ave. (between Lewandowski and Schuyler Aves.) impacted by the chemical plume that the plant owners have arranged for Servpro to clean their homes. Residents were advised to call Servpro at (201) 445-5588 to arrange appointments.
Despite having to take a day off from work on Monday, with all the uncertainty, and having booked a hotel room in the process, Nicolette said he was impressed by Lyndhurst police and firefighters. “They were very cordial – they had compassion, empathy for us – especially the chief of police,” he said.
By 3 p.m. Monday, Servpro had begun the cleanup process, Nicolette recalled. Company personnel, wearing masks and gloves, worked until 6 p.m. and returned on Tuesday morning to continue cleaning. Nicolette, his wife Stephanie and daughter Dani Rose were finally allowed back by the following day.
Asked about the state of his health since the brief visit to his condo, Nicolette said: “Am I feeling any ill effects? Absolutely not.”
As of last week, Nicolette was more concerned about getting new toys and stuffed animals for his daughter to replace the potentially tainted ones from the condo.