A sanitation worker was treated for minor acid burns Tuesday morning after a mixture of chemicals in his trash truck set off a small explosion and showered caustic powder over his face and clothing.
Raphael Lerma, 28, an employee of San Clemente Commercial Inc., had just dumped the contents of a trash can in the 100 block of West Marquita into the hopper of his truck when chemicals in the back of the truck mixed and exploded, said Jack Stubbs, a spokesman for the San Clemente Fire Department.
"I looked outside and saw a white cloud of fumes," said Brenda Chase, 23, a resident of the block who was temporarily evacuated from her home until firefighters cleared the area.
Lerma immediately hosed himself off with water from a nearby home and appeared to be unaffected, but later complained of irritation to his face and shoulder and of pain in his throat, possibly from inhaling the fumes, Stubbs said. He was treated and released from Samaritan Medical Center-San Clemente.
Fire officials examined the truck and found traces of muriatic acid, a common household chemical used for cleaning or etching and in swimming pools.
"This stuff is strong enough to take the rust from old metal," Stubbs said. "If it comes in contact with skin or eyes, or if it is inhaled, it will burn."
Muriatic acid should be taken to a hazardous materials disposal center, not thrown in residential garbage cans, Stubbs said.