Chemical reaction at Conyers bio lab facility shuts down I-20 for six hours

ROCKDALE COUNTY, Ga. — A fire at a Rockdale County bio lab facility touched off dangerous vapors and a strong odor in the air that forced emergency crews to close Interstate 20 for six hours on Monday.

Firefighters remained at the BioLab property on Covington Highway in Conyers into the afternoon as a strong, chlorine smell finally dissipated.

Plumes of toxic vapor rose out of the warehouse where Trichloroisocyanuric acid was stored. The chemical is in a powdered form and used to treat and clean swimming pools. When water came in contact with the chemical it released a chlorine or bleach smell.

“It was contained to about 10-12 pallets within that building and it’s remained isolated to those 10-12 pallets. And they’re working to get unaffected chemical out of the building so that they can get to the seat of the fire and extinguish it,” said fire spokesperson Jamie Leavell.

Rockdale County Fire rescue said because it was only a small amount of material and not widespread, they decided not to evacuate but they did close a 4-mile stretch of Interstate 20.

Triple Team Traffic started following this developing story on Channel 2 Action News This Morning when crews blocked parts of Interstate 20 between Highway 138 and Sigman Road.

A statement from BioLab says there was no fire and no injures but a chemical reaction due to water exposure. That’s why firefighters were so slow and methodical. They could not rush in and pour water on the fire and make it worse.

Conyers police warned people to stay away from the area due to the vapors in the air as crews put out the fire.

In 2004, there was a fire at the same location and nearly 30 people were hospitalized. Authorities closed I-20 for hours as crews worked to control the flames during that fire. Rockdale County sheriff’s deputies also went door-to-door in a one-mile radius of the warehouse, urging people to evacuate. The evacuations were only voluntary, not mandatory during the 2004 fire.

The effect of the plume was felt more than 50 miles away, according to the EPA. The 2004 fire was put out a day later.