NORFOLK — Emergency crews took care of a potentially dangerous situation involving a chemical reaction Tuesday at King Philip Middle School.
No children were at the school at the time, but staff who were there preparing for the start of the school year were evacuated.
The incident started Tuesday morning when town building and fire department officials conducting the annual fire safety inspection noticed a chemical odor in the school’s science wing.
The odor was traced to a preparation room where chemicals are stored. Opening a cabinet, inspectors determined a reaction had taken place in a quart container of calcium carbide.
“The area was immediately sealed by closing doors to the classroom and a fire department response initiated,” Fire Chief Coleman Bushnell said.
The state Department of Fire Services’ Hazardous Materials Response Team was notified, but it was tied up at another school chemical incident in Rockland and wasn’t able to go to KP Middle for 1 1/2 hours.
A photograph of the container was forwarded to the hazmat team, which instructed firefighters the material was dangerous if inhaled and, if exposed to water, would create acetylene gas, a highly-flammable material, Bushnell said.
School administrators were directed to evacuate staff from the science wing. Fire officials also contacted the manufacturer of the chemical to obtain information on handling the product after a reaction.
After arrival, the hazmat team moved the chemical to the athletic field, diluting the material with water and monitoring the acetylene gas.
“Their work today averted dire consequences,” Bushnell said.
A hazardous waste contractor removed the remaining liquid.
Also, the DFS Code Compliance Unit was requested to inspect the school’s handling of chemicals with the hazardous waste contractor and hazmat team. Other chemicals were located and secured for safety, and school officials contracted with a hazardous waste contractor to perform an annual inspection of the schools.
The school will be revising its policy and procedures for how chemicals are stored and inventoried, Bushnell said.
“This operation took several hours as Norfolk and Wrentham firefighters connected hoses to a hydrant for water supply and stretched additional hoses for fire protection,” Bushnell said, adding firefighters didn’t leave the school until about 2 p.m.
Wrentham firefighters responded as well as the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Norfolk’s station was covered by Franklin firefighters who responded to several medical emergencies.
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