All residents can return home after 21 blocks in Canton evacuated over sulfur dioxide release

CANTON, Ohio - Several blocks in Canton were evacuated Monday night after chemicals were released and six schools in the evacuated area were closed Tuesday.

Canton firefighters were called to the 1800 block of 22nd Street NE near Maple Avenue at about 2 p.m. Monday for a fire. Battalion Chief Thomas Garra said when the firefighters went inside the building and spotted white smoke, they called hazmat.

The building, which houses the company Convoy Inc., was still smoldering several hours later because of the sulfur dioxide release. By 10 p.m., the building was fully engulfed in flames. According to its website, Convoy Containers Inc. stopped operations in May 2011.

Five people were treated and released from local hospitals because of the chemical release, a hazmat official said. All residents were given the go ahead to return to their homes just after noon Tuesday.

Five local schools, Bellstone, Belden, Gibbs and Yountz Elementary Schools and Crenshaw Middle School were closed Tuesday. Canton College Preparatory School was also closed. Any student who lives in the evacuation zone but doesn't go to one of those schools was also be excused, Business Manager Tad Ellsworth said.

Tuesday morning, the evacuation zone was reduced to 23rd Street NE on the north, 19th Street NE on the south, Gross Avenue on the west and Harrisburg Road NE on the east.

The following area was originally evacuated: from 25th Street NE on the north, 4th Street NE on the south, Rowland Avenue on the west and Grace Avenue on the east. A total of 21 blocks were evacuated, including nearby Crenshaw Middle School. Authorities could not provide the number of people affected.

Garra said the quality of air is not to the point that masks are needed. The sulfur dioxide levels were in the single digits, below dangerous levels early Tuesday morning. On Monday night at 10 p.m. officials said levels were at 53 parts per million. It would have to be at 100 parts per million to be life threatening, the fire spokesman said but people could experience respiratory issues at even 30 parts per million.

"They (would have) difficulty breathing, some nausea and they could go into respiratory arrest," said Garra of the health concerns for people.

Both the national Environmental Protection Association and the Ohio EPA were at the scene and checking air samples for quality.

Garra said the sewer system and waterways of the sewer system and water runoff from the fire was tested.

The Canton Memorial Civic Center is being used as a temporary shelter, police said. The Red Cross will be taking some evacuees who do not have rides back to their homes. Busses will also be available free of charge.

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