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DP Road open after HAZMAT situation on lab property

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By The Staff

With sirens blaring, emergency management vehicles raced down DP Road Wednesday, responding to a Hazmat situation at Enclosure 12 in TA-21.

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For two hours, DP Road was closed as the LANL Hazmat team, Los Alamos Fire and Police Department and FEMA assessed the situation.

Most of DP Road was reopened around 1:45 p.m. as LAPD decreased its perimeter. Capt. Randy Foster said the initial call came into dispatch at 11:53 a.m. The road was closed east of 272 DP Road until the all-clear from the LANL Hazmat teams came in Wednesday evening.

Lab spokesman Kevin Roark said at 1:15 p.m. that as part of the lab's cleanup effort at MDA-B, workers were drilling into a one-liter bottle under highly controlled conditions and then something inside the bottle reacted with the air and caused a small fire.

"The containment of the building inside of where this happened held," Roark said. "And nothing has been released."

In addition, Roark said, there were no injuries. 

Roark said there have been zero detections after rounds of air monitoring were conducted and the condition is stable. At 2 p.m., Roark said LANL Hazmat crews still were investigating the situation.

Teams were working to determine what the substance was, trying to analyze what gas was released from the container and swabs were taken of the bottle. Roark said there was no timetable for any release of details concerning what the substance actually was.

Roark said he did not know how many workers were at the site when the accident happened. "But I can tell you, it was the absolute minimum to get the job done."

Roark said there were two other similar bottles at the scene but they had not been drilled into.

"The safety systems built into Building 12 worked exactly they way it was supposed to," Roark said. "Everything was contained and there were no releases."

The lab provided further details about the situation in a press release later Wednesday.

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. 

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. 

Around noon, LAFD trucks, a lab hazmat vehicle, a FEMA vehcile, several police cars including one containing police chief Wayne Torpy rolled past the Los Alamos Monitor office, located at 256 DP Road.

Police said a voluntary evacuation was taking place on DP Road. Police said for those who are working on DP Road to remain inside if they chose to stay. Businesses along DP Road still were waiting for an all-clear signal as of 7:30 p.m.

An automated 911 call was received at the Los Alamos Monitor at 1:05 p.m. advising all people on DP Road to shelter in place until the all-clear signal is sounded.

 Stay tuned to lamonitor.com for more details on this developing story.