Gas Alarm Triggers HazMat Call

Friday, August 11, 2017 @ 03:08 PM gHale

An early-morning gas alarm Tuesday triggered a HazMat response at a Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) sewer treatment plant in Chelsea, MA.

Upon arriving at the scene, firefighters found high levels of two dangerous chemicals in the air.

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“They immediately discovered hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen sulfide readings,” said Chelsea Fire Department Chief Len Albanese.

Hydrogen sulfide gas is an asphyxiant that suffocates victims at the cellular level, rendering cells in the body unable to use oxygen, according to the Chemcial Hazards Emergency Medical Management (CHEMM) web site.

Hydrogen cyanide is more easily absorbed through contact with mucous membranes, eyes, and skin, the CHEMM site said. The effects and symptoms of hydrogen cyanide poisoning are similar to those caused by hydrogen sulfide.

The area where the levels were found is three stories underground in an open channel that takes in sewage from several communities for preliminary screening.

The building is undergoing construction, but is still controlled remotely by the MWRA.

Investigators are investigating whether the chemicals came from sewage or somewhere else.

“We don’t know where it would have come from. It’s purely speculation at this moment,” said MWRA communications director Ria Convrey said.

“The MWRA is taking some wet samples upstream that could maybe detect where it came from,” Albanese said.

Twenty-eight people who were working inside the building ended up evacuated as a Boston HazMat team got the call to the scene.

One firefighter was taken to the hospital to be treated for a stress-related illness not caused by exposure to the chemicals.

Until a source is found, firefighters say they’re taking extra precaution.

“At this point, there is no public safety hazard. There is no hazard outside of the structure,” Albanese said.

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