Archive for Thursday, March 15, 2007

Hazardous material found at KTA service area

March 15, 2007

Fire, emergency and hazardous materials crews from as far away as Topeka responded last week to a Kansas Turnpike service center in southern Leavenworth County to collect several pounds of a dangerous powder.

Three Kansas Turnpike Authority employees found the white substance, wrapped in plastic, before noon Friday in a trash can at the service area about five miles east of Lawrence on Interstate 70.

They saw that the substance was burning through the plastic, called authorities and then went to be checked by doctors.

"They're fine," said Lisa Callahan, KTA spokeswoman.

Callahan said experts suspect the substance could be sodium hydroxide, a cleaning agent.

Joseph Heppert, professor and chairman of the University of Kansas chemistry department, said sodium hydroxide is a strong base - opposite of acid but equally as dangerous.

"In essence, it's a lot like lye," Heppert said, adding that the chemical is dangerous when it comes in contact with skin or eyes.

Mike Lingenfelser, Leavenworth assistant fire chief, said the powder reacted with water and produced heat. He said he didn't know how the powder ended up at the turnpike service center.

Response teams closed the westbound entrance to the center when they arrived. They reopened it about four hours later.

Leavenworth, Leavenworth County Fire District No. 1, Tonganoxie, Reno Township and Topeka crews responded to the call.

Hazardous materials workers removed 30 to 40 pounds of the powder into steel drums and then cleaned up the scene.

Callahan described the incident as small and isolated and said there were no injuries. For these reasons, she said, the incident wouldn't be investigated further.

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