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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 10:42 a.m., Friday, November 2, 2001

Chemical scare closes part of Hotel Street

By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer

A chemical scare involving a city garbage truck today sent three refuse workers to the Straub Clinic and Hospital and forced police to close a street near police headquarters for nearly two hours.

The refuse workers said they became nauseated from a chemical odor after picking up rubbish in the McCully area, said Honolulu Fire Department spokesman Capt. Richard Soo.

The workers drove the garbage truck to Straub, checked themselves into the emergency room and "got better once they got away from the truck," Soo said.

Three fire companies, including the hazardous materials unit, responded to Straub at 5:38 a.m., Soo said. As a precaution, police closed Hotel Street from Ward Avenue to Hale Makai Street.

The hazmat crew sampled the air around the truck and found everything to be okay, Soo said. The crews tested for numerous chemical irritants, including petroleum, Soo said.

The fire department called the "all clear" at 7:30 a.m., Soo said. Another worker drove the truck to the Ke'ehi Lagoon plant where possible, additional air sampling of the truck bed can be done, Soo said. Another option was to take the truck to the city's H-Power plant and burn the load, Soo said.

More scares

Another HazMat unit went to Aiea Shopping Center at 7:24 a.m. today to check on a suspicious envelope placed in a trash bin but found no problem with the envelope.

HFD's two HazMat units have responded to 135 calls from Oct. 12 through yesterday while the two Assessment Teams have been called out 119 times during the same period, Soo said.

The crews responded yesterday to a record 31 calls yesterday alone.

Yesterday's high number coincided with a mailer from the U.S. Postal Service that described suspicious mail. The Postal Service advised residents to call their local authorities if they came across packages that fit the profile.

Residents apparently didn't regard the leaflet as junk mail because the calls to 911 came in at a steady pace yesterday.

"This is a unique time for the Fire Department," Soo said. "None of us remembers anything like this."

Common sense urged

Postal Service and fire officials are asking the public to use common sense before calling for help. Soo said some of the samples identified by the hazmat teams included bird droppings and sugar.

Soo said the two hazmat crews and two special assessment teams are constantly responding to calls. He said that so many calls put a strain on the department and that the fire chief is considering forming two more assessment squads.

Despite the multitude of false alarms, Soo said, fire crews will continue to respond to all calls as if the suspect material were a hazardous substance. He said residents should call 911 if they have any doubts about a piece of mail.

Advertiser Staff Writer Curtis Lum contributed to this report.