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Archive for Wednesday, July 17, 1996

SUNFLOWER PLANT EXPLOSION DRAWS PROBE

July 17, 1996

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— A test burn of buildings at the Sunflower Army Ammunitions Plant is being examined by state environmental officials.

Sunflower Army Ammunitions Plant officials and representatives of the state health department are investigating leftovers from last week's controlled building burn, which involved asbestos, the plant's manager said.

Gayla Frazier, resident manager for the DeSoto plant, said Tuesday that the fire was a "pilot burn" conducted as part of a demolition effort to develop the area for commercial use.

One large building and three smaller structures, all of which harbored explosive powders within their walls, were burned. A loud explosion in one of the buildings punctuated the effort.

"This was the first time we've ever burned explosive-contaminated buildings," Frazier said. "We wanted to know what we'd get."

Most of the plant has been inactive since 1971.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Kansas Department of Health and Environment, city of DeSoto and area fire departments were aware of the burn.

"Right now we're kind of regrouping and trying to find out if there's a way to keep that material from going off (of plant property)," Frazier said.

Russ Brichacek, an environmental scientist with KDHE, said the buildings' explosive contents reduced the options of demolition to burning. The buildings also contain asbestos, a known carcinogen, which simply would be removed under less hazardous circumstances.

"It's unusual to have facilities that are contaminated with explosives," Frazier said. "In the past, we've been able to remove asbestos."

During World War II and the Korean War, the Army made nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin at the facility. The substances were used in explosives. The powder still exists in the walls of a few of the 413 structures at the plant.

The state granted a waiver for the burning of the hazardous buildings, a practice normally prohibited by federal regulations.

Using air sampling pumps and ash, KDHE representatives studied the results of last week's blaze.

Brichacek, who works in the air and asbestos compliance section, said Tuesday that it was too early to identify potential hazards.

"We don't know for sure what came off," Brichacek said.

The burn was preceded by months of planning, he said.

"We're evaluating to see if there's a problem or if we have to change our demolition procedures," Brichacek said. "If there is a problem, we certainly would address it."

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