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Wednesday, Feb. 02, 2011

Kennewick wine cork plant evacuated after gas leak

KENNEWICK -- A hazardous gas leak at a Kennewick cork-making company prompted its evacuation Tuesday afternoon.

The Kennewick Fire Department responded to the sulfur dioxide leak at CorkTec at 4:20 p.m. Tuesday at the Oak Street Industrial Park, 1426 E. Third Ave.

Sulfur dioxide is a heavier-than-air gas used in processing wine corks and it's also "bio-corrosive, meaning it's hazardous to people," said Battalion Chief Mike Barnett.

The gas is commonly used to clean equipment used in winemaking.

CorkTec uses the gas when sealing bags of wine corks.

"The vessel had a loose top which allowed the gas to leak," Barnett said, adding that "the two workers evacuated the building and called 911."

The Connecticut-based company makes many grades of natural and agglomerated corks, getting its raw materials from Portugal, where trees produce about half of the world's cork, according to a 2008 Herald story about the firm.

The fire department called in a hazardous materials team, Barnett said.

"They arrived and were successful in shutting off the gas and ventilated the building. Basically they just opened the doors," he said.

The gas dissipated by 7 p.m., he said.