Civic Center Involved : Chemical Spill in Truck in Van Nuys Sparks Evacuation

Times Staff Writer

About 250 workers were evacuated from offices in the Van Nuys Civic Center on Tuesday morning after a one-gallon container of an unidentified toxic chemical spilled in the back of a United Parcel Service delivery truck.

The truck driver, 28-year-old Brian Horn of Van Nuys, began to feel dizzy and pulled to the curb in the 14400 block of Sylvan Street, in front of Station 39 of the Los Angeles City Fire Department, Assistant Chief Jack A. Bennett said.

Horn wandered into the station at 8:46 a.m. and told firefighters that a container of chemicals had broken open among his packages, Bennett said.

Bennett said the driver picked the right place to stop. Station 39 is one of three city fire stations that employs a Hazardous Materials Task Force.


Area Evacuated

The block of Sylvan between Van Nuys Boulevard and Sylmar Avenue was immediately cordoned off, and workers were evacuated from the Van Nuys City Hall building and several neighboring businesses and law offices.

Firefighters, dressed in protective suits and masks, climbed into the truck and neutralized the chemical by covering it with an alkaline substance, Bennett said. None of the hazardous material spilled into the street, he said.

Workers were allowed to return to their offices at about 11:15 a.m., but the block remained sealed to traffic until early afternoon, when the spill was cleaned up by a commercial crew hired by UPS, fire officials said.


UPS was shipping a cardboard box containing three one-gallon containers of an undetermined chemical from a plant in Long Beach to a Van Nuys brick and stone contractor, police said. The box tipped over in the back of the truck, causing the lid of one container to crack open and spill, fire officials said.

Label Questioned

Although the box was labeled “hydrofluoric acid,” a poisonous and caustic chemical used in etching, plating and masonry work, police said there is evidence that it may have contained a less toxic substance.

Samples of the material were collected for testing. The Police Department, county health department and city attorney’s office are investigating to determine whether any transportation laws were broken, the city attorney’s office said.

Two minor injuries were reported. The driver and a 36-year-old woman who was driving past the truck when the chemical spilled complained of lightheadedness. They were treated and released from Valley Hospital Medical Center in Van Nuys, a hospital spokeswoman said. The woman’s identity was not revealed.

UPS officials could not be reached for comment.