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Haz Mat "Specialist Course"
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DEA Photographs

     One of my many Haz-Mat related contract jobs dealt with hazardous material mitigation on methamphetamine drug lab crime scenes. Photos were allowed by the DEA {Drug Enforcement Administration} as long as they revealed no officers or locations of this type of activity. It was regrettable that this contract ended, as they are a great bunch of guys to work with and always worked in a professional manner. See the Pictures from the Field page for images related to the following, and check back often for more photo sets.

     The work itself utilized a “type” of Haz-Cat “Kit” for initial analysis that was adapted by us for the common contaminants involved. A condensed “Kit” for all known hazards you are most likely to come up against is very useful in day to day operations. While there were a few situations that required additional analysis, the condensed version was enough to complete the job successfully.  Battery operated air monitoring devices are generally problematic in field use, unless you have a good maintenance team behind the scenes. We did not, so the simpler test strips type tools worked well for us.

     Due to the self-sufficient nature of our response, we had almost no option to replenish SCBA, so the mode of dress consisted of level “B” with the appropriate APR being worn for respiratory protection. The only safety concern we had with this operation was that it was originally set on the interior of these site structures. We adjusted the operation to APR’s by simply asking the DEA to place our hazardous waste on the exterior of the structure. This worked well to resolve the SCBA/APR issue. Remember, if you respond to this type of site, there may not be enough air inside the sites interior to filter through the APR!

     In response to one of these scenes, known by you or not, you can appreciate the size of the incident usually being smaller in nature to most hazardous materials accidents. If your group decides to accept the “level of service” to mitigate this type of event, you can actually succeed with minimal stores of equipment. Due to the nature of these contaminants usually being smaller sized, a few 5 gallon over-packs are all that is necessary to complete the task. In most cases the most problematic issue is with Anhydrous Ammonia mitigation. Here you will probably need at least one 55 gallon over-pack to complete an operation known as “sparging”. See my other postings regarding Anhydrous Ammonia.

     “Sparging” is a technique in which the responder, properly attired, usually level “B” or higher chemically transforms Anhydrous Ammonia into Ammonium Hydroxide. This is accomplished by inverting the container holding the Anhydrous and submerging it in a larger container holding water. The responder then opens the valve of the container releasing the anhydrous ammonia into the water. Some type of 55 gallon drum is the most useful water container to use. What occurs next is the evolution of heat; you will feel the temperature of the water increase, but only slightly, not enough to cause any hazard to the responder. Also you will hear a slightly loud deep rumbling sound coming from the reaction of the water being mixed with the Anhydrous Ammonia and transforming it into the resulting Ammonium Hydroxide. Once the reaction is complete, the rumbling ends. The resulting Ammonium Hydroxide and water mixture will smell like strong ammonia cleaner. Also, you will see flakes in the water solution from the reaction, this is normal.

     The need to haul away the derivative from "sparging", Ammonium Hydroxide, is not necessary as this product can be “washed down” and will not harm waste water treatment operations in a major City. However, if you are operating in a small town or an area with “well” water this may not be true, due to environmental concerns. Always check with local water authorities before conducting this type of operation.

     Words of caution, NEVER, NEVER, trust labels on any of these types of scenes! Always test with whatever “Haz-Kat Type” kit your team decides it will use. Remember, these are criminal scenes, and criminals are not exactly the type of people that will comply with DOT labeling information. Two of the lessons learned for me were, 1] you will be shocked at the volume, toxicity, and type of chemicals that can be securely held in a 1 gallon milk jug! 2] I really had to give these guys credit for the lab apparatus they improvised. Very little of it was acceptable lab ware, but when you do not have money for expensive equipment, you will be amazed at what you can create with duct tape and clothesline!

                                                        Haz-Mat Mike

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