Chemical reaction at Conyers plant prompts hourslong shutdown of I-20

Fire crews remain on the scene of a chemical reaction that occurred early Monday morning at a warehouse in Conyers.

Credit: JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

Fire crews remain on the scene of a chemical reaction that occurred early Monday morning at a warehouse in Conyers.

A chemical reaction inside a Conyers plant prompted the closure of I-20 in both directions for more than six hours Monday and led to the evacuation of surrounding businesses.

Firefighters responded to the BioLab plant in the 1700 block of Old Covington Highway shortly before 6 a.m., authorities said. The warehouse has been the site of several chemical fires over the past 16 years, but a spokesman for the company said Monday’s incident was caused by water exposure inside the facility.

No injuries were reported.

The chemical reaction occurred at the BioLab plant in the 1700 block of Covington Highway.

Credit: JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

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Credit: JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

Officials blocked the four-mile stretch of I-20 between Sigman Road and West Avenue as a chlorine vapor cloud billowed into the air above the warehouse. Drivers were urged to avoid the area completely and residents were encouraged to shelter in place, the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.

BioLab, which has had operations in Conyers since 1973, houses production and storage space for pool and spa water-treatment chemicals, according to the company.

Fire officials said Monday’s chemical reaction involved about a dozen pallets of dry chemicals inside the facility.

“There were no flames, but there was heat involved,” Rockdale fire spokeswoman Jamie Leavell told AJC.com. "Something happened in there that caused the chemical to put off that vapor cloud.”

A spokesman for BioLab said the large cloud was caused by water exposure, though fire officials said the exact cause remains under investigation.

“We are not aware of any injuries and have confirmed there is no fire at the facility," BioLab’s statement read. "Our management team is on the scene, working with first responders and local authorities to assess and contain the situation.”

The company said it has notified the U.S. Chemical and Safety Hazard Investigation Board and will provide additional updates “as appropriate.”

Crews shut down all lanes of I-20 in both directions about 6:30 a.m. as a precaution, causing major backups in the area for much of the morning.

The interstate reopened shortly after 1 p.m.

“Although the fire poses know threat to the citizens of Rockdale County, citizens in the local area are encouraged to shelter in place at this current time,” sheriff’s office spokeswoman Deputy Kyana Jackson said earlier.

A fire at the facility on May 25, 2004, set off multiple explosions and prompted the evacuation of hundreds of nearby residents, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported. Residents were evacuated again after a second chemical fire June 4, 2016.

A Rockdale County deputy diverts traffic away from the chemical plant Monday morning.

Credit: JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

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Credit: JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

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