At approximately 9:30 AM on Friday, December 1, emergency hazardous material procedures were triggered at The Exchange when equipment operators conducting routine trash compaction discovered a cloud of noxious gas in the transfer station.
Gary Bauder, an equipment operator, felt his nose and skin burning from an acrid gaseous substance emanating from the trash. He alerted Executive Director Pete Moe, who immediately called 911, cleared the area of personnel, and closed the yard to public access.
“Hazardous materials are a big deal for us,” said Moe. “The personal safety of our employees, volunteers, and the public is at stake.”
First responders from Orcas Island Fire and Rescue arrived to double down on safety measures and assess fire danger. At 10:20 AM, OIFR contacted the Washington State Department of Ecology Spill Response team.
According to Scarlet Tang, spokesperson for DOE, the team initially sought to advise OIFR remotely on response protocols, but after hearing more details they decided to come to Orcas. “Our spills response team left from Paine Field by helicopter and were on the scene at 3:00 PM,” said Tang.
They arrived at ORS equipped with full-body hazmat suits and oxygen tanks to determine the cause of the vapor cloud, evaluate the threat to public safety and the environment, and to facilitate removal of the materials.
Together, OIFR and DOE determined that the physical pressure of trash compaction had ruptured several metal and plastic containers stored in a single garbage bag. According to DOE, the leakage created an inadvertent cocktail-like combination of chemicals that caused a volatile reaction.
The DOE team returned to the mainland overnight but came back by ferry on Saturday to continue the response.
According to DOE, the exact combination of chemicals has not been determined. Ruptured containers for antifreeze, motor oil, marine epoxy, and aerosol spray cans were found together.
Please remember to keep all hazardous waste material out of the trash and bring it to our bi-yearly Hazardous Waste events!
Photo: Department of Ecology. Washington State Department of Ecology Spill Response team at the transfer station.