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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Rochester Boro Failed To Make Quorum In First Meeting After Chemical Fire Forced Residents To Shelter

A Rochester Borough Council meeting scheduled for Monday night was cancelled after it failed to make quorum.

Only 3 of Rochester’s 8 council members showed for the public meeting, the first since Friday night’s chemical fire that forced the town’s residents to shelter in place for hours.

Although Council was unable to proceed with a formal meeting, President Ben Rader, along with members Howard Howe and Ron Becker, opted to hear comment from members of the public.

“We can hear anybody’s complaint,” Rader said. “But we can’t act on it because we have no quorum. We’ll hear you, and if you can come back maybe next month, at least we’ll have it down.”

Among the topics of discussion were the condition of borough roads, the maintenance of borough property, and the chemical fire.

Chuck Mignanelli complained that ordinances in the town are not being properly enforced, and said properties are being left in a state of disrepair that is attracting undesirable wildlife.

“We pay more taxes in this town than they do in Beaver. More than Beaver,” Mignanelli said.

“Where is this tax money going? … I am ashamed to tell people that I live in Rochester. Look at New Brighton. I went to Ellwood City, I could not believe the yards in Ellwood City. They’re landscaped, it’s beautiful. Why not here? Because it’s rental property? Why are they any different than me? Why can’t they maintain their property and why can’t the borough cite them for it. We should be the richest borough in Beaver County.”

Rader told Mignanelli that properties are regularly cited, but blamed the courts for being so readily willing to dismiss those citations if property maintenance is done prior to hearings.

“They are cited. They have an appearance before the magistrate and before you know it that grass is cut, the property is cleaned, and guess what? The magistrate drops the charges. But they let it go again and they get cited again, and it’s the same thing. It’s repetition over and over.”

But it was not just privately owned properties that drew the ire of those in attendance.

Linda McGaffic told Council the borough-owned Chewning Playground that sits behind her house is “a hazard” and “a mess” and hasn’t been maintained in years. She said officials told her the Borough only has one maintenance man on staff and he does not have the time to even cut the grass.

“This borders my property and I am tired of looking at it,” McGaffic said. “If you’re not going to maintain it, the kids don’t use it anymore, I’m willing to buy it.”

When the conversation turned to the chemical fire, several residents complained about the manner in which officials had communicated the emergency to the public.

“Is there like a 911 emergency thing? We didn’t get any call about the leak,” asked one resident.

“I have a landline, we didn’t get any calls … We did the next day but not that night. My mother-in-law lives across the street, she received nothing either … We didn’t get any until the next day, they started in the morning of the next day.”

Council informed her about the Beaver County SWIFT 911 alert system that residents of the county can sign up for to receive emergency notifications.

Another resident complained about a lack of specificity in the notices that did go out.

“The original call that I got didn’t say anything about shutting your windows, so I just left the windows open. Then my wife woke up about an hour later and was like, it really stinks in here, so I went and shut the windows … I had thought there was a gunman running loose, I had no idea.”

Rochester police acknowledged during the meeting there had been some “glitches” in how notifications went out, but said the handling of the incident went well.

Rader appeared to downplay the significance of the chemical fire and praised the work by first responders.

“That chlorine that was there, that was swimming pool grade chlorine. It’s tablets, it’s the same things that go in your pool to clean your swimming pool. You go swimming in it,” he said.

“There are different grades of chlorine … When people think chlorine they think, and I saw on my Facebook someone attacked me about it, they said, ‘ya that’s what they used in World War I to kill people.’ Ya, but that’s not the same stuff, this was little tablets. Like I said, you throw them in your pool, you drink it in your water.

“So if you had some sort of respiratory problems, COPD or anything like that, asthma, ya, if you breathe it in it’s going to irritate you. You’re going to feel it. I swear, I was down there for 3 or 4 hours and I felt it, but that’s just because of the exposure. A healthy, normal person, it’s not going to do anything unless you walk right there into the cloud that was down there, and we all saw that.

“Even now, people are saying, ‘oh ya, residual, what’s going to happen?’ Nothing, nothing. Saturday afternoon, late in the afternoon, was the most beautiful day I’ve seen around here in a long time.”

A resident then chimed in, “Ya, but the wind was blowing.”

Rader continued, “Here in Rochester we’re safe. They did do a great job, the police department did a great job, the fire department did a great job; all of the departments that responded and everybody did a fantastic job. It could have been 100 times worse. Thank goodness it wasn’t …

“I’m blaming DEP for this because they’re the ones who took over the site down there and they didn’t remove it properly … They dragged their feet and mixed a few things that shouldn’t have been mixed.”

Rader later ended the meeting by again apologizing to those in attendance for the lack of quorum.

“I am sorry we can’t act on anything. If you want to come around next month hopefully we will have enough people.”

Rochester Borough Council generally meets once per month.

BeaverCountian.com contributor Matthew LaComb contributed to this report

John Paul
John Paul
John Paul is the founder of the Beaver Countian. He reports full-time for the site, specializing in investigative journalism with an emphasis on public corruption.

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Will55Silence_DogoodFormer RamJustSay!!!n Recent comment authors
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The vast majority of the outcries that I read on social media were not damning the first responders. The outcries were more so directed towards the failed plans to alert the public properly, as a whole, in an emergency situation. That is unacceptable!!! A new plan of action must be implemented to ensure the safety and well-being of “every” resident of Beaver County in future emergency situations. Period!!!

Former Ram
Former Ram

No quorum at council meeting. Denial that chlorine gas, even at low levels, is very reactive with the human body and can cause permanent lung damage. Lax blight enforcement. High property taxes and low accountability by public officials. What happened to my hometown?


Every council member that was not in attendance for this meeting should be immediately removed from their positions. They voluntarily ran a public campaign and were elected to that position. To skip a meeting is bad enough, because that’s the role YOU decided to partake; but to skip a meeting that took place immediately after a major emergency that affected a large group of the people you’re supposed to represent is just deplorable.

Also, who is that jackass to downplay the potential harm that chlorine of ANY grade can play on the human respiratory system? Where did he get his degree in Pulmonology? Chlorine of ANY kind, regardless of whether it’s the stuff used in WW1, or the stuff you put in your pool, is going to have an effect on your system. To say, “it’s just the stuff you put in your pool and swim in, so it’s ok,” is reckless at best. When you go swimming, you’re not inhaling it, and you’re certainly not breathing it. It has to be diluted in the water to a certain number of parts per million to be considered safe to swim in.

All that said, who did the air quality testing at different ranges from the site to find out what the concentration in the air was at different distances? What affects does certain concentrations have on the respiratory system? Chlorine, as a gas, can cause burning of the eyes, skin, and mouth, as well as inflammation of the throat and lungs. That’s not just in old people with COPD. That’s everyone. Also, what affects does chlorine gas have on infants and children. You can’t tell me that there wasn’t 1 house somewhere near there that had at least 1 baby in it.

So, before this asshat that had the nerve to downplay this whole thing says, “it’s just pool chlorine, so there’s nothing to worry about,” I think he’d better start doing some MAJOR research. The fact that he’s downplaying this as much as he is is opening the town up to some MAJOR lawsuits should anyone suffer any lasting effects from exposure to the gas.


I live in Baden. The morning following the fire, I went outside and discovered a heavy fog that had the distinctly strong smell of chlorine in it. Keep in mind that I live in Baden and while that is close, it isn’t that close.
As for this being a pool chemical grade chlorine, I believe it makes little difference as to the grade when large quantities are burned and also feel the people were unwittingly deceived about the health hazards. When inhaled, chlorine causes burns to the lungs, sometimes permanent damage can occur.
Why wasn’t there better notification to the residents? I’m still curious as to what times during the fire were the air quality assessments made that were used to determine whether evacuation and notification of the residents was needed? I hope these issues have been addressed since the writing of this article.
I couldn’t tell you one Council members name or any of their qualifications but barring a true personal emergency, I can’t imagine any justifiable reason for the council members that failed to attend the meeting. They are shameful. It leaves much room for speculation. Maybe they just didn’t want to take ownership of their duties during this problem. Are the meetings not on the record? I think they are. It would be difficult show up and look the people you represent in the eyes and promise them solutions when you don’t understand the purpose, reasons, and need for your job. Then again, maybe they were out shoveling up the mess and just didn’t have time for the meeting.
Regardless of their reasons for not being there they have failed by refusing to listen to the voices of the people they serve. I am hopeful that I’m wrong and they do care and have listened to their constituents. It has been sometime now and I’d like to think the next time something like this happens in Beaver County the notification system is more apt to serve the people and keep them safe.

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