Asphalt leaking from storage tank at Phoenix manufacturing plant

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PHOENIX -- The Phoenix Fire Department was called out to an asphalt plant early Wednesday morning to deal with what was first reported as an oil leak from a 50,000-barrel storage tank.

Paramount Petroleum Corporation, the largest manufacturer of paving and roofing asphalt products in the western U.S., is located at 19th Avenue and McDowell Road.

Firefighters initially shut down McDowell Road between 19th Avenue and the freeway. They re-opened it a short time later after determining there was no hazardous-materials situation.

What was actually leaking from the storage tank was warm liquid asphalt. When in its liquid state, asphalt has a consistency similar to molasses. Once it starts to cool off, which usually happens fairly quickly, it begins to harden.

According to Capt. Scott Walker of the Phoenix Fire Department, the leaking asphalt was being contained in a dyke that's built around the tank just for that purpose.

"Originally, we had a large assignment out here to make sure this oil was going to be contained," Walker explained.

Walker said the facility has the proper systems in place to handle the situation. As soon as the leak was discovered, shortly before 7 a.m., Paramount Petroleum began offloading the liquid asphalt to other storage tanks.

Walker said the dyke around the damaged tank, which was only about 70 percent full, is designed to hold its entire contents -- 50,000 barrel.

"[The liquid asphalt] will not overflow the dyke," he said.

Several firefighters, including a fire-prevention unit, remained on the scene to monitor the situation and the cleanup.

Because asphalt hardens as soon as it begins to cool, just like when a street is being paved, there is no danger of it seeping into the ground and causing an environmental issue, said a Paramount spokesman. That means the leak should not have any impact outside the facility.

Paramount said it has notified all of the appropriate environmental and safety agencies.

The biggest issue Paramount is facing now is cleanup at its facility. The hardened asphalt will have to be pounded into smaller bits -- like when a street is torn up  -- and removed.

No injuries were reported in the incident.