A frigid wind did not discourage passersby from watching the Oregon State Fire Marshall Region 10 Hazmat team in action Thursday evening.
The Boardman Fire Department called in the team, which is based in Hermiston, after a resident accidentally spilled about four gallons of acid on the road at the intersection of Southwest Willow Fork Drive and Southwest Locust Road.
Someone called the fire department at around 3:40 p.m. after noticing the spill. A white pail was overturned and a brownish, bad smelling powder was spread on the ground around it in about a three-foot wide pool.
Boardman firefighters closed off the streets surrounding the intersection. The Hazmat team arrived in two vehicles, one a large semi-type truck with a long trailer that the team members used to suit up in.
Two team members, Chris Wrathall and Lt. Scott Sahill, then approached the spill dressed in white coveralls, orange boots and green gloves. They wore airmasks and carried shovels, plastic sheeting and a plastic bag full of baking soda.
Several people from the nearby homes watched the team with apparent fascination, and a couple took pictures.
Scott Stanton, the assistant chief of the Hermiston Fire Department, said the powder was synthetic muriatic acid, used to clean concrete or possibly treat swimming pools in some way.
Muriatic acid, known as hydrochloric acid, is highly corrosive and has many industrial uses, such as the "pickling" of steel (it removes rust). It is also present in the human stomach. It can cause irritation and damage to eyes, skin and lungs if handled incorrectly.
Wrathall and Sahill poured baking soda on the acid to neutralize it, then covered it with sand that the Boardman Fire Department delivered on a backhoe.
"It's kind of benign once we've neutralized it, so the city will handle the cleanup," Stanton said.
Boardman Fire Chief Marc Rogelstad said a woman who lives at 311 Willow Fork Drive dragged the pail of acid for half a block after it got stuck under a camper trailer that she had hooked up to a vehicle. The woman did not realize she had dragged the pail, so she kept driving after it spilled onto the road. Rogelstad said he called her husband, who said his wife was on her way to meet him in Idaho with the camper trailer.
Both Rogelstad and Boardman Police Chief John Zeiler said the woman would not be cited for the chemical spill.
Boardman Police Officer Frank Rivera said the department treats any unknown chemical as hazardous. Rogelstad said this was the first hazardous spill in Boardman since he started his job 10 years ago.
The last time the Hermiston Hazmat team was called out was in June, for an unknown white powder at Two Rivers Correctional Institution, Stanton said. The powder turned out to be harmless.