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Fargo water source changed for safety

The city of Fargo switched water sources Thursday as a precaution against chemicals that landed upstream on the frozen Red River during a fire in Wahpeton, N.D.

Bois de Sioux River

The city of Fargo switched water sources Thursday as a precaution against chemicals that landed upstream on the frozen Red River during a fire in Wahpeton, N.D.

Mayor Dennis Walaker said the city could use Sheyenne River water for about 10 days. Fargo normally relies on the Red River for its water but can also draw from the Sheyenne.

Dennis Fewless, director of the Water Quality Division for the North Dakota Department of Health, said officials found frozen water on top of the river that firefighters had used to fight a blaze Monday at Industrial Plating Corp. in Wahpeton.

Emergency responders blocked storm drains to the river, which Fewless estimated prevented 99 percent of the contaminated water from reaching the river.

"We're estimating only about 1,000 gallons," he said. "It was sort of a long, little narrow strip that you could see of discoloration on the ice."

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Fewless said crews removed the frozen contamination Thursday. Given the small amount of chemical believed to reach the ice, the potential for harmful contamination of the river was minimal, he said.

Fewless said his division notified Fargo to give it the option of finding another water source.

Walaker, who traveled to Wahpeton on Thursday morning to see the spill, said switching water sources was a "prudent" move.

Bruce Grubb, the city enterprise director, said Fargo will test the Red River for about seven days, "just to make sure the coast is clear."

Moorhead, which was also notified by the Health Department, has not switched from Red River water to its wells, said Cliff McLain, water division manager for Moorhead Public Service.

The city is monitoring the water for changes, he said.

"We've been watching it and don't see anything," he said.

In Wahpeton, investigators from the state fire marshal's office were cleared to enter the remains of the plant late Thursday afternoon after hazardous materials experts evaluated the scene, said Brett Lambrecht, Richland County emergency manager.

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Lambrecht said it appeared Thursday that most of the chemical stock used by the plant was still in containers.

The amount of chemicals, such as hydrochloric acid and zinc, which may have been released during the firefighting process, is thought to have been very small, he said.

Lambrecht said investigators will return to the site today, and it's possible they will be on the scene for several days.

Calls to the state fire marshal's office were not returned Thursday.

Liz Brocker, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota attorney general, said the fire marshal's office typically does not comment on active investigations.

Lambrecht said fire crews were called to the scene early Thursday when a flare-up occurred.

The flames were quickly extinguished, but Lambrecht said investigators from the fire marshal's office warned that additional flare-ups could be expected for weeks to come.

Lambrecht said Industrial Plating hired a company to start cleanup once the investigation is completed. A ring dike is being erected to catch any melt water caused by thawing expected in the next several days, when temperatures may reach the 30s, he said.

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Forum reporter Dave Olson

contributed to this report

Readers can reach Forum reporter Andrea Domaskin at (701) 241-5556

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