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Archive for Thursday, July 25, 1996

HEALTH DEPARTMENT

July 25, 1996

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Officials checking the results of a recent test burn at the Sunflower Army Ammunitions Plant found no hazardous presence of asbestos.

The smoke billow from a test burn July 10 at the Sunflower Army Ammunitions Plant in DeSoto left no detectable trace of airborne asbestos, according to test results that became available Wednesday.

State health department officials and plant representatives were checking for fibers of asbestos, which acts as a carcinogen in the air.

The ash -- some of which escaped the plant's 9,000 acres -- did contain some asbestos, but it was trapped in paper form and not considered hazardous by state health department officials.

"Basically, it was a solid form, not seen as a hazard," Kansas Department of Health and Environment scientist Russ Brichacek said. "It was somewhat brittle and intact."

Ash left behind by the blaze was gathered by representatives of Alliant Techsystems -- the operating contractor -- and environmental scientists. The asbestos-contaminated leftovers were disposed of in the plant's permitted landfill.

One large building and three smaller structures, all wood-framed, were set ablaze during a "pilot burn" conducted as part of a demolition effort to develop the area for commercial use. Fuel and hay were used to ignite the structures.

The resulting smoke was tested at the plant's perimeter and asbestos was not detected, said Alliant resident manager Gayla Frazier, who manages the DeSoto plant.

As the plant prepares for the next building burn, possibly in August, environmental scientists and plant representatives are working on ways to contain what the fire produces.

"We may make a few changes on the next controlled burn," Brichacek said.

Burning was determined to be the safest method of demolition after plant officials discovered that, in addition to being structurally unsound, the level of explosive residue within the buildings' walls was dangerous. Otherwise, asbestos simply would be removed.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency, the city of DeSoto and area fire departments were aware of the burn.

During World War II and the Korean War, the Army used the plant to produce smokeless powder for ammunition. The buildings burned earlier this month were the first explosive-contaminated structures to be burned, Frazier said.

The plant has been relatively inactive since 1971.

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