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Hazmat Team Responds to Chemical Reaction at Los Alamos Laboratory’s Technical Area 21

A small chemical reaction in a bottle containing liquid drawn from a 60-year-old cylinder at Los Alamos Laboratory’s Technical Area 21 caused Laboratory officials to call in hazardous material personnel March 14.

by Other Author
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LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico, March 14, 2012—A small chemical reaction in a bottle containing liquid drawn from a 60-year-old cylinder at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Technical Area 21 caused Laboratory officials to call in hazardous material personnel today (March 14).

When a Laboratory worker took a sample of the gas inside the bottle of liquid, a chemical reaction occurred that caused the material to flare briefly. Neither the worker nor anyone in the area was injured or exposed to hazardous chemicals, but workers immediately employed standard emergency response procedures and called in the Laboratory’s hazmat and emergency response personnel.

As part of these procedures, Los Alamos County fire, environmental, and law enforcement officials also were contacted. Los Alamos police closed off DP Road to traffic, and have now since reopened all but the section closest to the Laboratory’s Technical Area 21. This area is located toward the east side of Los Alamos, near the intersection of Trinity and DP Roads.

The incident occurred just before noon.

The work was being done inside a sturdy metal enclosure about 200 feet long, resembling an airplane hangar. The structure is equipped with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) and activated carbon filtration system, which means any vapors from Laboratory operations are captured and processed through the filtration system.

The sampling activity entailed a Laboratory subcontractor’s emptying cylinders that were excavated last year from a World War II-era landfill known as Material Disposal Area B. The cylinders are about the size of a fire extinguisher.

This sampling process involves removing the cylinder’s contents prior to disposing of the cylinders. The contents of one cylinder had been drained into three, one-liter plastic bottles. This is the normal operating process, and allows for vapor samples to be drawn to ensure that no hazardous constituents are present prior to disposition of the cylinder contents.

The reaction occurred during today’s gas sampling activity, and caused a plastic sampling bag to burst and the contents to ignite briefly when they were exposed to air.

Laboratory hazmat personnel took command of the situation upon arriving. They entered the structure and validated that no radiological or significant chemical hazards were or are present. No readings of any hazardous constituent have been detected outside of the enclosure.

Air sampling inside the enclosure indicated very low levels of volatile organic compounds in the immediate area of the containers. The workers conducting the sampling activity were wearing protective clothing and equipped with supplied air, which provided protection against any potential chemical contamination.

The situation has been categorized as a "non-emergency significant event" by the Laboratory. The Los Alamos Fire Department has left the scene and Laboratory emergency response personnel have secured the area.