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Police Building Cleared After Chemical Leak

February 14, 1990|SHELBY GRAD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEWPORT BEACH — The Police Department headquarters was evacuated and closed for nearly six hours Tuesday after a bottle containing a potentially explosive chemical ruptured.

No serious injuries were reported. However, as a precaution, four employees requested that they be examined by a doctor.

In the most serious of those cases, one sergeant complained of redness on his nose and cheeks after smelling the substance, Police Officer Bob Oakley said.

Oakley said the evacuation did not interfere with normal police patrol or the department's efforts at the Newport Beach oil spill area.

The chemical, acetaldehyde gas, was stored in a four-cubic-foot refrigerator that malfunctioned sometime Tuesday morning or Monday night, Oakley said. The chemical is used in testing marijuana.

As the substance warmed, it expanded and finally ruptured the glass container it was in, releasing an odor that one officer described as a cross between ether and ammonia.

A department employee first caught a whiff of the chemical around 9:30 a.m., and Orange County Hazardous Materials Team officials evacuated both floors of the department's building on Santa Barbara Drive a short time later.

About 150 police officers and personnel were forced from the building as well as 17 prisoners, Oakley said.

Five of the prisoners were taken to Costa Mesa police headquarters and the other 12 were taken to court appearances, he said.

Workers from Upland-based Disposal Control Service Inc. arrived just after noon, and eventually moved the refrigerator and the gas from the building.

During the closure, police dispatchers and communications officials worked out of the City Council chambers.

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