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Garbage reaction safely contained

“Step away from the truck” was the message given by Island County Fire District 3 personnel and law enforcement Monday afternoon just outside Langley. Moment before a yellow cloud began billowing out of the back of a garbage truck.

The belching plume and a strong odor of sulfur emanating from the truck caused an Island Disposal employee to alert the Island County Sheriff’s Office of a possible hazardous materials spill in the garbage compartment.

It was first thought that the action of the truck’s blade caused a plastic container of photographic chemicals to rupture. Later that day, it was discovered that spilled Linseed oil and a solvent-soaked rag may have contributed to the problem.

The driver was at his last stop for the day on Saratoga Road near Strawbridge Lane when he noticed the chemical reaction taking place inside the truck. A call to 911 brought law enforcement and fire district personnel within minutes.

The driver and the first FD 3 personnel saw the yellowish plume and detected an odor of sulfur. The incident was treated as a hazardous material spill, so Saratoga Road going into and out of Langley was blocked off for two hours.

FD3 Captain Mike Cotton said the situation was handled that way because of the unknown nature of the substances involved.

“Our role (at hazardous material calls) is to isolate, identify and deny access to the scene,” Cotton said.

Several people, including the driver, a local resident, a sheriff’s deputy, an emergency medical technician and a newspaper reporter who were near the truck when the plume escaped, were quarantined until the substance was identified as not harmful to those nearby. Several expressed frustration at being held and believed the response was overkill.

Cotton said later the response was appropriate because it could have been something serious that those individuals nearby could have spread to other people if they had been allowed to disperse.

Several members of Island County Fire District 3’s hazardous materials team dressed in protective clothing to identify the spill and clean it up with a Kitty Litter type substance.

Three Washington State patrol troopers were on the scene and the state patrol’s hazardous materials crew was en route from Marysville but were turned back before they reached the Mukilteo ferry dock.

The truck was then driven by an Island Disposal employee to the Coupeville Transfer Station, where it was checked by the county’s hazardous waste department. Island Disposal manager Don Souza said the incident was a good lesson in how not to dispose of harmful chemicals.

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