Pa. FFs discover numerous decaying containers of acid during fire call

Firefighters said there were "too many [containers] to count" and the hazmat team was called


Tony Rhodin
The Express-Times, Easton, Pa.

EASTON, Pa. — The Easton Fire Department responded about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday to a minor incident in an abandoned building along Route 611 just south of the George S. Smith Memorial Bridge over the Lehigh River.

The fire in what appeared to be rubbish or debris was quickly put out, Deputy Chief Henry Hennings said. It wasn’t clear if it was started by chemicals or squatters, he added.

Easton firefighters discovered several decaying containers of acid at an old industrial building while responding to a call about a small fire. The hazmat team and containment specialists were called to the scene. (Photo/lehighvalleylive.com, Courtesy Photo)
Easton firefighters discovered several decaying containers of acid at an old industrial building while responding to a call about a small fire. The hazmat team and containment specialists were called to the scene. (Photo/lehighvalleylive.com, Courtesy Photo)

But as firefighters came out of the space, they noticed smoke coming from another room in the onetime industrial building where no one has worked for more than 20 years, Hennings said.

A chemical reaction had happened in an area containing decaying, various sized containers of acid -- “too many to count,” Hennings said when asked for a number.

The “off-gassing” might have come from the humidity or one of the barrels falling, Hennings said. “Several” of the containers were in “very, very poor condition,” Hennings said.

“It’s a mess in there,” he added.

Lehigh County’s hazardous materials team was called in to deal with the initial containment, which was achieved by 2 a.m., Hennings said.

“I’m just glad we have them as a resource,” Hennings said.

Once it was determined it was a hazardous materials situation, Easton firefighters withdrew for their safety and went through basic decontamination, Hennings said. The fire department remained on the scene in case they were needed, Hennings said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection on Thursday morning was expected to meet fire and emergency management officials at the site in the 200 block of what’s also called South Delaware Drive, Hennings said. A plan will have to be developed to remove the containers and clean up the building, Hennings said. Various companies can handle that work, he added.

While the building is only about 200 yards from where the Lehigh and Delaware rivers meet in Easton, there were no streams or storm sewers nearby that could have carried the chemicals into the waterways, Hennings said. With heavy rain expected later Thursday, Hennings said the building’s roof is intact and likely would protect the acids from being disbursed by the weather.

There have been similar small fires over the years at the site, and the fire department was aware there might be chemicals there, but since the building had been empty for so long, they didn’t know the extent or condition of the containers before Wednesday, Hennings said. Normally, if a company is storing such chemicals, it is required to report to the city, he said.

The building has been owned since 1979 by Easton Plating and Metal Finishing, Northampton County property records show. A phone number listed for the company was disconnected. Property records show just a post office box for the company.

City police and EMS as well as Northampton County’s emergency management chief assisted at the scene along with various people from Lehigh and Northampton counties who make up and work with the hazardous materials team, which is part of Lehigh County’s Special Operations division.

The road was closed for hours.

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©2020 The Express-Times, Easton, Pa.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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