Suspected chemical discovered in vault

Published 9:05 pm Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Star Photo/Curtis Carden City officials and employees with HEPACO, an environmental cleanup company. discuss plans to address the vault fire near River View Townhomes Tuesday.

Star Photo/Curtis Carden
City officials and employees with HEPACO, an environmental cleanup company. discuss plans to address the vault fire near River View Townhomes Tuesday.

Work continues following the recent discoveries near River View Townhomes in Elizabethton.
City officials collaborated with other entities to set up a base of operations on Tuesday near the east entrance of the housing complex to monitor a vault fire — discovered Monday during construction work over the former North American Rayon premise off Stonewall Jackson Drive.
“It burned yesterday, mostly underground,” said Barry Carrier, Elizabethton Fire Department Chief. “We used chemical extinguishers on it yesterday and we had it out. We carried over it with dirt last night to hope it would cool it down. But when we tried to open the cover of the vault this morning to access what was in there … it reignited.”
As smoke poured from the vault, Carrier said that crews working the scene may know what they’re in store for.
“We haven’t made a positive identification on the substance yet,” he said. “But from all the indications, with how it is acting plus looking at old maps and talking to people that used to work here — we think we’re looking at carbon disulfide.”
No confirmation can be made on the substance until the fire dissipates, Carrier added.
“It can be toxic, it is highly flammable and can be explosive,” he explained of carbon disulfide. “Once that chemical is exposed to the atmosphere … it starts burning. It is a small amount. Our plan right now is to let it burn in place because the toxicity of what’s coming off the burning process is a lot less than the toxicity of it inside the vault.”
While the crew is putting the final touches on the vault, another was discovered Tuesday afternoon by HEPACO, an environmental cleaning service, which is assisting with the incident.
“Just from the old maps and people we’ve talked to, we expected a second one,” Carrier said. “From what we’ve been told, one was capped off in the 1960s and another was put in place.”
Prior to the Elizabethton Star’s press deadline, crews were scheduled to check the lines on the first vault to make sure no other substance would leak into the object.
The incident began Monday after a backhoe struck the first underground vault, causing it to catch fire. Carrier said the vault’s temperature reached 500 degrees at that time and caused a slow process of working toward discovering what the substance was, adding “when he (the construction worker) pulled back, it flamed on him.”
Residents of River View should expect no trouble with traffic, Carrier said.
“The east side of the complex is fine now,” he added. “The property owner opened up another road on the west side of the complex to help people get in with us having to shut the road down. They used a makeshift gravel road and did great with that.”
Rusty Barnett, with EFD, added that it is just one project at a time and that the current vault is the department’s focus. Barnett said the second will be addressed once the first vault is taken care of.
Into the evening hours on Tuesday, Carrier updated the situation.
“The vault has burned out,” he said. “Our next step will be digging around for any residential soil that may some of the substance in it. We’re hoping to have some type of confirmation on the substance by this evening or tomorrow.”
The construction being performed is for additional town houses within the vicinity. Carrier added that the developer will be the one to make the upcoming decisions about what to do with future work on the site.

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