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Bonn, September 2015: Having recently inherited a house in the Muffendorf district of Bonn, the new owners decided to travel to the property to clear it out. During their tidy out, they discovered some old rusty metal drums, some of which had a sticky yellow substance oozing out of them. They could also see some faded warning labels that made it very clear that whatever was in the containers was poisonous. The family immediately rang the fire brigade, who then called in BUCHEN UmweltService’s emergency management team. Removing these containers proved to be a difficult business and not one that the operatives get to do every day.
The substance had been stored in five 10kg containers under the roof of a dilapidated outbuilding – and had probably been there for a very long time. One of the containers was broken; a second was corroded and had lost its lid. It very quickly became clear to all those present that this was a job for highly trained specialists as the substance was a pesticide that had been banned many years ago. The pesticide had reacted with the metal and turned into a highly explosive mixture. Sensitive to movement, pressure, friction and changes in temperature, the chemical might explode at any time – and have the same effect as 20 kilograms of TNT.
The substance had been stored in five 10kg containers under the roof of a dilapidated outbuilding
BUCHEN UmweltService’s emergency management team got straight down to work. “We started contacting people in our network, acting as general contractor to make sure we had the right specialists on hand to do the job,” explained Gero Buchartz, head of the company’s emergency management division. Working together with a crisis management group consisting of representatives of the fire brigade, the state office of criminal investigations and the bomb disposal squad as well as the environment agency and local regulatory office, a suitable concept and fixed schedule were drawn up within no time at all.
A rapid response team: BUCHEN’s 24-hour emergency management division ensures pollution incidents are handled safely.
The first step was to dampen down the chemical wherever it had escaped to reduce its reactivity. Once that had been done, the substance was carefully removed from the two drums that were leaking their contents. BUCHEN’s sister company, XERVON, had erected scaffolding around the outbuilding to ensure that the operatives had a safe platform to work from. A sprinkler system had been attached to the scaffold as well as a camera that could be used to monitor the inside of the building. The sprinkler system had been designed by the company itself and was made primarily of plastic. Standard metal systems were out of the question – they would turn into dangerous missiles if the chemicals exploded.
All properties within a 100-metre exclusion zone were evacuated during the first day. Once everyone had left, the team moved in and used the sprinkler system to sprinkle the room under the attic with water as the chemical had dripped through the planks to the area below. One of BUCHEN’s high performance vacuum / cleaning trucks was brought in to remove the liquid. Next, the room was cleared out and filled with Styrodur polystyrene boards to support the rotten wooden ceiling. The operatives, equipped with special measuring equipment, had to wear chemical protective suits and respirator masks.
The following step was the trickiest part of the operation: using the sprinkler, the poisonous substance was washed out of the damaged drums. Thanks to the CCTV system, the water pumps could be controlled from a safe distance. A special basin was used to collect the water and transfer it to a special container so that practically all of the water was able to be recovered. BUCHEN’s vacuum / cleaning truck was deployed here, too, to remove any spillage from the floor – which had been sealed off before the work began – and to pump it into special containers. Five hours later, the team were able to relax after all of the chemical had been washed out and safely stored.
The drums had to be handled with extreme caution
All the neighbours were evacuated from their homes
The emergency team expertly coordinated the different tasks – ensuring that all rules and regulations were adhered to at all times.
The next day was spent removing the sealed drums. This time, however, only the immediate next-door neighbours had to leave their homes as the risks were considerably lower. After the roof had been removed from the outbuilding, the team were able to get a good look at the drums which appeared to be stable and undamaged. The XERVON scaffolders moved in to adjust their scaffold and set up a support system with a remote-controlled hoisting device. One by one, the drums were carefully lifted out of the building, placed in a special insulated transport container and then loaded into an explosion-proof spherical container attached to the bomb disposal squad’s special trailer.
BUCHEN also carried out the follow-up work: professionally packing and removing all the contaminated materials and cleaning all the surfaces affected by the pesticide. All of those taking part agreed that the collaboration work between the teams had been excellent – it could not have gone more smoothly.