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City halts bleach production after finding potentially ‘fatal’ level of chlorine gas

Bleach manufacturing at CUA Pools in Denton has some nearby residents complaining about fumes.
Courtesy photo
CUA Pools via Facebook
Bleach manufacturing at CUA Pools in Denton has some nearby residents complaining about fumes.

Life-threatening levels of chlorine gas were detected during a leak at a Denton pool company last month, prompting the Denton Fire Department to request the evacuation of 29 homes, records obtained by the Denton Record-Chronicle show.

Neighbors alerted Denton public safety officials about an alarm sounding from inside CUA Pools at 2717 N. Elm St. around 11 p.m. Oct. 8, saying they “heard a pop” and began smelling bleach after an electricity outage.

First responders detected a “strong smell of chlorine” inside the building, and readings that hazmat personnel performed using a ToxiRae chlorine monitor showed 50 parts per million of chlorine gas, prompting the evacuation of 29 homes within 500 feet of the business.

“Chlorine has an ‘immediate dangerous to life and health’ (IDLH) level of 10 ppm,” Fire Chief Kenneth Hedges told city staff and officials in an email, referring to the levels established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for hazardous chemicals. “At 50 ppm [it] would be a fatal dose for any human.”

No residents sought medical attention from the Fire Department on site. About 10 people from the evacuated homes went to Fire Station 1 and were allowed to return home just after 2 a.m., when detected chlorine levels dropped below 1 ppm. The remaining residents told responders they would shelter in place and were advised to call 911 if they experienced any symptoms.

Over the past few months, complaints from neighboring residents about bleach fumes led to several visits from city public safety officials and an unannounced site visit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in September. The business began manufacturing its own bleach on-site this summer, a process that neighbors say shouldn’t happen in an area with residential homes nearby. The machine would often run at night when the business was closed, according to nearby residents.

“We want the machine shut down,” neighbor Kay O., who asked not to have her full name published, told the Record-Chronicle in September. “I have no problem with them having a [legitimate] business — I want poison to stop pouring into my neighborhood.”

Those neighbors will finally get their wish: The city’s planning department informed CUA Pools owner Juan Franco that district zoning “will not allow the production of bleach at this address and that the equipment needs to be removed,” Fire Battalion Chief David Boots confirmed Wednesday.

The city also conducted a code compliance inspection at CUA on Oct. 9 and found outdated and hazardous wiring, but the Fire Department has not determined if wiring or the electrical outage reported by residents could have triggered the leak.

Franco says that while he has shut the equipment down, he cannot afford to have it removed or stored, and he doesn’t think he should have to.

As for the leak, Franco says he doesn’t believe anyone needed to be evacuated since the readings were taken from inside the business, not outside. Monitors were used to take readings around the building, and “there were no readings observed,” fire incident reports show.

First responders referenced the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s emergency response guidebook application for guidance on evacuation procedures based on the readings taken inside CUA.

Records show Franco could not be reached via phone or at his residence by investigators during the Oct. 8 incident.

“We have a sensor inside the building that detected up to 5 ppm, and they told me 50 ppm — I think their measurement is off by tenfold,” Franco said. “Evacuating the nearby neighbors was not necessary. There was no bleach detected outside of the buildings.”

Franco has denied the concerns about irritating gas fumes that at least two neighbors previously reported to officials, saying the manufacturing process does not produce any fumes.

Now, CUA is back to buying bleach, paying about four times what it cost to produce it on-site, according to Franco. They may eventually move out of the city, but for now, he said, they’re planning to fight to get production back up however they can.

“This isn’t going to take our business down, but it’s unfortunate that the city decided to do that, so we’re appealing the decision and evaluating our options,” Franco said.

TCEQ has not yet released the records from its site investigation but expects to this month.