2nd explosion in year at Glenville plant elevates concerns

Mohawk Asphalt Emulsions announces it will no longer manufacture kerosene solution
An Air National Guard airport crash truck moves in to put out a fire Thursday in Glenville.
An Air National Guard airport crash truck moves in to put out a fire Thursday in Glenville.

GLENVILLE — Mohawk Asphalt Emulsions is facing pressure from authorities after a second explosion in less than a year rocked the plant Thursday.

In response to the blast, the company — part of The Gorman Group — announced Thursday afternoon that it would no longer manufacture a kerosene solution that was part of the early morning blast and fire.

Firefighters on Thursday night were not available to disclose the cause of the explosion.

But company officials believe a heater operating inside the plant caused a cleaning solution containing the kerosene to overheat and catch fire, according to a statement released by company attorney Frank C. O’Connor III.

“To prevent this in the future, Gorman will no longer manufacture the kerosene solution at this facility,” O’Connor’s statement read.

The 6:30 a.m. explosion and fire destroyed a fuel tank at Mohawk Asphalt. Nobody was injured, but it was the second major incident at the Freemans Bridge Road plant since last October.

A tanker truck exploded at Mohawk Asphalt on Oct. 17 and severely hurt two men who later died of their injuries. A third man also was hurt in the explosion.

Town Supervisor Christopher A. Koetzle said mid-afternoon it was time to find a more appropriate spot for the emulsions company.

“Having this type of use in a dense promotional corridor doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “On the river, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s not 1922, you don’t put that type of use on the river anymore. It’s time for us to all work together and find a more appropriate place for this use.”

By late afternoon, and after a meeting with Gorman principal Tony Gorman, Koetzle had softened his stance. 

“He (Gorman) has assured me there cannot be an explosion there again because there’s not going to be that type of product,” Koetzle said. “That’s a huge step forward. He indicated he wasn’t opposed to finding a location but did indicate the cost would be prohibitive. That’s when I said we have to engage the county and the state.”

Koetzle said Gorman was open to town suggestions and concerns, adding that the town has no authority to force a move. But the supervisor still believes a new location is part of the future for Mohawk Asphalt.

“I think in the long run, there’s a better place,” he said. “This goes a long way in making sure everybody is safe in that area.”

On Thursday morning, the loud boom shocked neighborhoods and businesses near the plant. Firefighters included the Air National Guard’s airport crash truck.

“We got the fire knocked down pretty quick and started cool-down operations,” said Garth Riccio, chief of the Thomas Corners Fire Department. “Nobody was injured, everybody evacuated the site immediately.”

Riccio said about five people were working at the business during the early morning hours, and met firefighters as they arrived.

“They did exactly the right thing,” Riccio said. “They got out of there. Nobody got injured, nobody got burned. Facilities can be replaced. People can’t.”

Riccio also said: “The employees filled us in on what was happening and that everything was safe at the time. All utilities were secured right in the beginning, so we didn’t have any problems with that.”

Riccio added that Thursday’s fire was different than the 2016 emergency there.

“This time was more or less just material and a truck that wasn’t involved or anything like that,” he said.

While people working nearby described the incident as an explosion, the fire chief did not.

“I wouldn’t exactly call it an explosion,” he said. “It was more or less a fire of tar products burning in a tank.”

Sara Carey and Rachel Dente heard something different.

“It felt like a wave of pressure,” said Carey, who lives on Frantzke Avenue, off Rosa Road. “It woke me from my sleep with my hairs standing upright as though from an electric shock, shook my house and sent my dogs frantic.”

Dente added via The Gazette’s Facebook page: “We’re off Maxon Road Extension and the whole house shook and woke us up.”

Jess Rava, production manager at nearby Elmo’s Auto Body, was sitting in her desk when she heard the explosion.

“I thought a car hit the building or something,” said Rava, who was the only employee inside Elmo’s. “I was looking around out the windows and stuff, trying to see what happened and then I walked outside. The fire trucks were already coming.”

Rava captured video images of the flames and smoke.

Personnel at the nearby Homewood Suites by Hilton hotel, near the Water’s Edge Lighthouse restaurant, also heard the explosion.

“I personally felt the explosion, I heard it,” said Mounssif Slaoui, the hotel’s general manager. “I felt something, like an explosion, an earthquake, something.”

Slaoui said his night clerk called firefighters. Hotel personnel pulled the facility’s fire alarm.

“It was really loud and everybody knew they had to evacuate the building,” Slaoui said, adding firefighters asked people not to stand on the side of the building facing the fire scene — for smoke concerns.

Slaoui said 90 rooms were occupied at Homewood Suites on Wednesday night.

“Everybody was understanding,” he said. “It’s different from something like in a hotel, a false alarm. This time, they see smoke, they see it’s behind the building, they see it’s something we have no control over.”

Homewood Suites opened in May. Slaoui said two incidents on the Mohawk Asphalt property in less than a year has him concerned.

“We want to know the cause this time,” he said. “We don’t know a lot of details. We want to know more details about the incident and we’ll discuss that.”

The blast also was felt at The Daily Gazette on Maxon Road Extension.

Steve Ostrander, home delivery manager for the newspaper, had been on the job since 4 a.m.

“I was sitting at my desk and the whole building just shook,” he said.

Ostrander said he first thought a truck had crashed into the newspaper’s “A” dock, once used for material deliveries and located on the west side of the building. He said he walked to office windows above the dock, expecting to see a crashed truck. Instead, he saw black smoke rising into the sky from Freemans Bridge Road.

“Right away, I thought ‘Oh, it’s got to be the same thing that happened before,'” Ostrander said.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation also was at the scene of the fire.

“We will follow up, and we’ll follow up with the fire department,” said Matt Franklin, the DEC’s director of emergency management. “Our own internal police department is going to check to see if there are any violations we need to address.”

Police temporarily closed Freemans Bridge Road. Traffic was snarled in the area for about an hour.

For the 2016 incident, Mohawk Asphalt was fined $17,745 by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

That blast occurred when workers tried to use a propane blowtorch to heat a plugged line, as a mix of kerosene and asphalt was being loaded into a tanker truck. The explosion killed Joe Nichols, 56, of Amsterdam, who died two days after the explosion, and Al Crowter, 42, who died Nov. 3 at Westchester Medical Center’s burn unit.

On July 29, 1976, an explosion at the Freemans Bridge facility injured two men. A 100,000-gallon asphalt paving material tank exploded and burst into flames at Cady Co. and Mohawk Asphalt and Paving Corp. The men were struck by flying steel and admitted to Ellis Hospital.

DEC officials said on Thursday that OSHA has been contacted about the latest incident.

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124, [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter.

Impact of the blast

Did you feel or hear the boom from the fire Thursday morning? Email where you were when you felt or heard it to [email protected] and we’ll add it to our map.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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