Toxic Trash in Electra - KAUZ-TV: Newschannel 6 Now | Wichita Falls, TX

Toxic Trash in Electra

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A toxic situation in Electra on Tuesday morning led to some scary moments as businesses near downtown were evacuated.

Someone spotted smoke coming from the back of an IESI garbage truck as it drove down North Main Street. The driver emptied his trash in the middle of the road so Electra firefighters could put it out, but water only made things worse.

An unknown chemical in the trash was reacting with the fresh air and the water, forming a toxic cloud. Electra Police Chief Johnny Morris said, "That's when we evacuated the nearby businesses within about a three-block area to keep everyone safe until we actually knew what it is and where it came from."

Hazmat crews and environmental experts rushed to the scene, and found trace amounts of sodium phosphide in burlap sacks. The chemical is used in pesticide production and was only found in trace amounts, leftover in the bags. Still it didn't take much and, when mixed with water and air, the chemical converts to hydrogen phosphide.

Environmental Manager and Hazmat Consultant Shawn McCullar said the sacks never should have been in that trash. He said, "These sacks should have been drummed up and shipped off. Somebody probably made a mistake, they got mixed with the regular plant trash and -- boom -- there you have it."

Multiple sources tell Newschannel 6 the garbage truck made several pickups in Frederick, OK. before driving through Electra. There's been no confirmation on where the pesticide ingredient was picked up.

McCullar said, "I don't think there was any real negligence here, probably somebody looked at this as plant trash."

Firefighters doused the poisonous pile with a suppressing foam, limiting its exposure to the air and neutralizing the chemical reaction. They then used a backhoe to stir up the pile, and sprayed it again. Finally, firefighters added dirt to the pile, solidifying it so it could be transported to the landfill, now harmless.

Still, many residents want answers. Albert Griswold said, "I'd like them to find out who's responsible with this and hold them responsible for it. Maybe some fines, some retribution to our downtown people who have had to close their shops for the day."

Jack Lamson, Newschannel 6
@JackLamson