A local man who died last year left behind vast stores of dangerous chemicals in Pierce County that hazardous materials crews are working to get rid of, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
“There was really (potential) danger — fire, explosion, exposure, health hazards,” local EPA spokeswoman Suzanne Skadowski said this week. “We’re really glad we found out about them when we did, so that we could take care of them.”
The first cleanup started Jan. 19 when a University Place man called police about chemicals stored in his home on 44th Street West. He said he’d kept them for the late owner of the substances.
“He might have just taken a closer look at them and been worried,” Skadowski said. “He definitely did the right thing.”
More than 240 containers of unsafely stored chemicals — including sodium metal and hydrofluoric acid — were removed from the home.
When sodium metal mixes with water, it produces spontaneously flammable gas that can seriously damage skin and eyes, according to the EPA.
Hydrofluoric acid is corrosive, toxic, and can seriously damage lungs when inhaled.
Authorities also found chemicals at a Tacoma property on McMurray Road Northeast that the late owner of the substances rented.
The hundreds of different chemicals, some of which had spilled, spanned four derelict buildings and thousands of containers, and likely will take crews the rest of the week to finish cleaning up.
“There’s just so many,” Skadowski said.
She said it’s not clear what the late owner used the chemicals for, but that the man’s obituary stated he had an interest in chemistry and fireworks.
Environmental regulations require certain storage practices and mandate some volumes to be reported, but Skadowski said that because the owner has passed away, the EPA might not ever determine what specific rules, if any, were broken.
“Our focus here is just to clean up and secure these two sites so that people are safe,” she said.