40 flee as chlorine fumes fill Westminster Kmart Disinfectant was dumped into compactor

August 22, 1993|By Bill Talbott | Bill Talbott,Staff Writer

More than 40 customers and employees had to leave the Kmart on Englar Road in Westminster when chlorine fumes from a trash compactor filled the department store Friday morning.

The store was closed at 9:11 a.m., three employees were taken to Carroll County General Hospital for treatment and another 12 people were taken to the nearby National Guard Armory to escape the fumes, said Kevin Utz, public relations spokesman for the Westminster fire company.

About 20 employees, some of whom had begun work as early as 6 a.m., were examined at the scene when they complained of headaches, dizziness, burning eyes and general sickness.

No one was seriously injured.

For more than three hours, hazardous materials units from Baltimore County and Carroll County technicians worked together at the scene. Carroll County has no HazMat unit, but it has 37 technicians trained to handle hazardous materials.

Mr. Utz said 40 pounds of calcium hypochlorite, a product used to disinfect swimming pool water, was dumped into the store's trash compactor, then compressed into an adjoining trash container.

"Yesterday [Thursday] afternoon, the substance was inadvertently and unknowingly placed in the compactor and the odor of it was noticed inside the store today," said Kevin Roberson, the Kmart's assistant manager.

"We called the manufacturer of the product, Shock It, and were advised to call the local fire department, which we did."

One employee, who asked not to be identified, said 3 to 4 pounds of the concentrate could service a 20,000- to 30,000-gallon swimming pool.

Mr. Utz said the chlorine product, manufactured by the Olin Co., is a natural substance and presented no health hazard outside the immediate area of the trash container.

Members of the Baltimore County HazMat team wearing full gear, including air masks and tanks, removed the calcium hypochlorite.

Team members were decontaminated with fire hoses, scrubbed with a neutralizer and squirted again before returning to the HazMat truck.

The contaminated materials removed from the trash containers were placed in 55-gallon drums and sealed and will be removed by a contract hauler of hazardous materials for safe disposal, fire officials said.

Fire officials called the hauler, Eastern Waste Industries, to pull the trash container away from the compactor and remove it after the hazardous materials were extracted.

Engines from the Westminster, Reese, Manchester and Pleasant Valley companies responded to the incident, along with medic units from Westminster, Reese, Pleasant Valley, Hampstead and New Windsor.

Other businesses in the shopping center remained open during the cleanup, but only the entrance from Route 140 could be used.

Woodward Road, at the north end of the shopping center, was closed to traffic because winds were carrying fumes in that direction.

The Kmart reopened about 1 p.m. after a test of the air inside the building.

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