Rising from the ashes: Unknowns of Queen City Barrel fire still concern Lower Price Hill residents

Kinship binds neighbors in sickness, health

CINCINNATI -- Donna Jones didn’t have to leave her yard in Lower Price Hill to experience the spectacular five-alarm blaze at Queen City Barrel 10 years ago.

She watched from across Eighth Street as the bright red flames danced in the darkening sky and black smoke drifted far beyond her neighborhood, just one bridge away from downtown Cincinnati.

And she heard the popping noises that at first made her think her house’s windows were shattering from the force of the conflagration.

But because she knew more about the industrial barrel processing company than many of her neighbors, Jones soon realized that every loud pop she heard signaled the bursting of another lid from a barrel that held the remains of chemicals and compounds she didn’t want in her neighborhood.

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Donna Jones

As a member of the Lower Price Hill Environmental Leadership Group, an initiative launched by the now-disbanded non-profit Urban Appalachian Council, Jones had spent years studying the company and its record of environmental violations.

She suspected that every pop’s colorful spark represented something toxic—environmental investigators later found the smoke contained carcinogens like benzene and styrene and neurotoxins like toluene and central nervous system irritants like xylene.

As Jones watched, she worried for her family and her neighbors.

Kids lined up along the Eighth Street viaduct to watch the many-hued “fireworks” exploding in the air as tens of thousands of melting industrial waste barrels spewed their contents into the sky.

 

Smoke blankets Lower Price Hill and other neighborhoods during Queen City Barrel blaze | Photo courtesy Michael Henson

Jones made no secret of her distrust of Queen City Barrel, the barrel cleaning company. She complained to the city and the Environmental Protection Agency. She had taught her children and their friends when and how to document and report possible violations. She had given countless toxic tours of the neighborhood where she’d lived most of her life.

But what happened in the months following the 2004 fire still haunts her.

“When the Queen City Barrel fire happened, it seemed like right after that, and it’s not an exaggeration, it seemed like this community was doing funerals every week for a long time, sometimes two a week,” she said. “It wasn’t just the old people and sick people.”

WCPO Insiders can hear residents and environmental activists describe the work they did before and after the fire to keep their community safe -- and how that work has helped the entire city. 
 

This article is part of of the series Rising from the Ashes, in which WCPO remembers the Queen City Barrel fire a decade later.  We invite you to explore photos, an interactive timeline as well as articles about the former owner of the company, Eddie Paul, and the firefighters who battled the blaze at www.wcpo.com/QCBarrelFire.

PHOTOS: The fire, from the Cincinnati Fire Department's perspective

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About this Project

A WCPO team of reporters interviewed firefighters, residents, environmental experts; reviewed hundreds of pages of investigative records and EPA findings as well as analyzed Hamilton County death records. 

  • Dan Monk, reporter
  • Lucy May, reporter
  • Elissa Yancey, contributing environmental reporter
  • Keith Rutowski and Emily Maxwell, photographers
  • Mark Nichols, data specialist
  • Brian Niesz, multimedia producer/designer
  • Anne Hallilwell, interactive timeline
  • Maxim Alter, then and now graphic
  • Chris Graves and David Holthaus, editors