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Evaluating explosion risk in southern Colorado

Hazmat member says no Texas-type chemical manufacturers here

Evaluating Local Explosion Risk

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The recent explosion in west Texas has many southern Colorado residents wondering if the same thing could happen here.

The answer is probably not, said Lt. Mike Offutt, a member of the hazmat team for the Colorado Springs Fire Department.

"We don't have the manufacturing here," he said.  "So we don't have the same type of risk as they had there.  And we have only small quantities of the most dangerous chemicals -- those that the skin can absorb, or cause breathing problems."

However, Offutt said enough of a danger is posed by other chemicals and materials that are transported through the area, on Interstate 25 or by rail.  The 30-member hazmat team trains regularly with local agencies, industries and businesses to prepare for accidents.

The team responded to a spill at Colorado College last week.  One person was seriously injured and 12 others required minor medical treatment.  The chemical in that incident was believed to be titanium tetrachloride, a corrosive.

In April 2011, a train tanker leaked hydrochloric acid in Monument, forcing the evacuation of 255 homes.  No one was injured.  The team did not respond to that incident.

Offutt said the team is responsible for containing the spill, and overseeing cleanup.  He said whoever owns, stores or transports chemicals pays the cleanup cost.

Andy Williams of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad said anhydrous ammonia, a chemical used in fertilizer believed to have fueled the Texas blast, accounts for only about two-tenths of one percent of all rail traffic.

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