A hazardous materials situation at the Ballston Metro station over the summer likely exposed riders to toxic gas from batteries.
That’s according to a report at this afternoon’s Washington Metrorail Safety Commission meeting.
As detailed in WMSC’s Twitter thread, the incident happened the evening of Thursday, Aug. 11 and involved old backup batteries in the station’s Train Control Room that were boiling over due to improper charging. On top of that, gas was released into the station because of a faulty ventilation system, according to WMSC.
A fire alarm went off after gas was detected coming from the room, prompting an evacuation and a fire department response that was later upgraded to a full hazmat response. But at least one train stopped at the station and let out riders during that time, exposing them to the toxic gas, WMSC said.
The hazmat response was noted on social media by at least two local journalists, but did not otherwise get much attention at the time.
Radio traffic indicates trains bypassing Ballston Metro as @ArlingtonVaFD handles a hazardous materials incident involving batteries. #wmata #metro
— Dave Statter (@STATter911) August 12, 2022
Metro personnel and the fire department responded to the Ballston Station due to a battery fluid spill in an adjacent room. Trains are bypassing the station as a precaution while the spill is cleaned. Shuttle bus service is being provided. #WMATA
— Allison Papson (@AllisonPapson) August 12, 2022
Following the incident, Metro “developed a number of corrective actions to address issues identified during this investigation,” according to WMSC’s thread, which is compiled below.
The first report today, W-0189, relates to an evacuation for life safety reasons at Ballston Station on August 11.
On August 11, 2022, toxic gas from overheated Metrorail batteries filled part of the Ballston Station. These batteries support the uninterruptible power supply – or UPS – for the station’s Train Control Room.
The Arlington County Fire Department determined that a fire alarm was due to gas coming from the battery room at the southeast end of the station.
The Metrorail personnel involved in the response did not know about the battery safety switch outside the room that can be used to cut power.
After forcing entry into the room, Arlington County Fire upgraded the response to a hazmat response. This was 47 minutes after the initial alarm.
At that point, responders communicated that trains should bypass the station and riders should be evacuated for their safety.
During the time the station was evacuated and closed to riders for their safety, one train stopped at and serviced the station, placing riders in hazardous conditions.
n addition, Metrorail did not follow its emergency response processes. This includes the incident command process. Information was also not consistently and clearly shared.
Rail Controllers made general announcements on the Ops 4 channel for some trains to turn off environmental systems when bypassing Ballston Station. No similar announcements regarding the environmental systems or bypassing Ballston Station were made on the Ops 2 channel.
Train Operator who serviced Ballston Station during the evacuation was in the Ops 2 radio territory when the announcements were made on Ops 4 The Ops 2 Rail Controller made an announcement on their channel only after the Train Operator serviced the station during the evacuation.
The investigation shows that Metrorail had kept the UPS in service beyond the end of its useful life, allowing it to run to failure.
The battery charger was not working properly. This led to excess energy being fed into the batteries. In addition – the ventilation unit in the room was not operating correctly, and the separate exhaust fan was also not working.
The batteries overheated. System data indicates the toxic gas release began approximately 15 hours after the improper charging began. The acid in each battery began to boil.
The WMSC had raised similar ancillary room maintenance concerns to Metrorail in the spring, and further documented these issues in our August 4, 2022 Train Control Room order, the week prior to this event.
Metrorail had committed in the spring to special inspections of ancillary rooms for these types of ventilation system deficiencies, but had not continued those inspections until after the WMSC’s order.
Metrorail opened the battery disconnect to separate the batteries from the UPS at about 12:30 a.m. The battery bank later cooled down and stopped emitting the toxic gas.
The power cutoff was delayed due to unclear labelling of cutoffs and insufficient training and communication of actions to take in emergencies related to battery-supplied systems.
Metrorail developed a number of corrective actions to address issues identified during this investigation. In addition Metrorail is implementing CAPs tied to the Emergency Management and Fire and Life Safety Programs Audit, August 4 order, and other related findings.
A suspicious package prompted a large emergency response at an office in the Crystal City area today.
A dramatic scene played out after Arlington’s dispatch center was called about a suspicious package at the U.S. headquarters of German grocery chain Lidl, at 3500 S. Clark Street.
First responders were told around 11 a.m. that the building was being evacuated after a package with an unknown powder and liquid inside was found partially opened, with the liquid leaking out. A unified fire and police command was established outside while an Arlington fire department hazmat crew investigated.
About an hour later, the drama had a happy if anti-climactic ending: units on scene reported that the substance was not hazardous and, in fact, the liquid was believed to be water.
An ACFD spokesman was only able to confirm that the substance was “non-hazardous.” Capt. Nate Hiner also noted that despite initial reports, the office was not evacuated.
Crash Prompts Hazmat Cleanup — From the Arlington County Fire Department last night: “N Glebe Rd closed in both directions between Arlington Bl and N Pershing due to a fuel leak following a motor vehicle crash. #Avoid the area.” [Twitter, Twitter]
Metrobus Crash in Ballston — From our Twitter account yesterday afternoon: “Southbound N. Glebe Road is blocked at Washington Blvd by a crash involving a car and a Metrobus. Police and medics on scene.” [Twitter]
Police Oversight Vote to Be Held Wednesday — The County Board vote on creating a Law Enforcement Civilian Review Board will be taken during a special carryover meeting on Wednesday. [Arlington County]
Activists Decry Possible Route 29 Development — “An activist group raised the alarm about what it suggests could be a major upzoning along the Route 29 corridor. Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future… said efforts to impose ‘major increases in density’ along the 5-mile Lee Highway corridor were resulting in ‘stiff opposition’ from residents. The group encouraged those with concerns about the proposals for more intense zoning to get in touch with County Board members sooner rather than later.” [Sun Gazette]
Arlington Firefighter Honored — “2021 Northern VA EMS Council Regional Award winner for Outstanding Prehospital Educator is EMS Education Specialist, FF Clare Sabio, Arlington Co Fire Dept.” [Twitter]
Local Private School Gets Accredited — “The Sycamore School in Arlington has earned accreditation by Cognia, a nonprofit organization that provides quality assurance for schools, school districts and education-service providers.” [Sun Gazette, Press Release]
Western Wildfires Make for Hazy Sunset — “The haze that hung high above us on Monday has been identified as smoke from Western wildfires, in what seemed a vivid visual reminder that faraway hardship may not leave us unaffected. ‘A thick layer of smoke’ at upper atmospheric levels ‘can be seen in the sky at this time,’ meteorologists in the local office of the National Weather Service said Monday night.” [Washington Post]
Photo courtesy Tom Mockler/Twitter
Arlington County firefighters and other authorities are investigating a possible hazmat situation on the water at Theodore Roosevelt Island.
A kayaker spotted an oil sheen on the shoreline and called the fire department, we’re told. Arriving firefighters confirmed the sheen, though it initially appears limited in scale.
“We have units on scene (landside) at Roosevelt Island investigating a sheen of a petroleum product around the island,” Arlington County Fire Department spokesperson Taylor Blunt tells ARLnow. “US Park Police Harbor Patrol and Eagle 1 (helo) are also there checking the extent of the spread.”
“It appears to be isolated in nature, possibly due to a passing boat that had a leak in their bilge,” Blunt added. “They’re still investigating and don’t believe there is any threat of harm to wildlife or visitors at this point.”
A large fire department response at Bishop O’Connell High School this afternoon has been pared back after a gas odor investigation found no active leak.
Firefighters — including a hazmat team — were called to the school at 6600 Little Falls Road around lunchtime for a report of a natural gas smell in a deep pipe chase. They remained on scene well into the afternoon, investigating the odor with crews from Washington Gas.
Thus far, nothing hazardous has been found. The school was not evacuated.
A portion of N. Trinidad Street was closed during the incident due to the extensive emergency response.
More from the Bishop O’Connell website:
A construction worker at Bishop O’Connell detected what he thought might have been the smell of gas in a utility tunnel this afternoon. The Arlington County Fire Department along with representatives from the gas company have been on site all afternoon. They have detected no sign of a gas leak and they have not recommended any evacuation at this time.
Please know that there continues to be a strong fire department presence at the school. In an abundance of caution, they are monitoring the situation, which remains unchanged at this time.
Afternoon pick-up notes: The front carpool lanes may be closed off this afternoon. Students will be dismissed through the gym and Underwood Street lobbies. Please obey all law enforcement officers, and exercise abundant care as you pick up your students.
We appreciate your patience during these unusual circumstances!
(Updated at 3:20 p.m.) The Arlington County Fire Department is working to mitigate a chemical odor and sheen on Four Mile Run near Barcroft Park.
The department has been providing updates about the hazmat incident on social media, saying Thursday afternoon that the source was a leaking underground oil tank along Columbia Pike near the Fairfax County border.
“We are working with our neighboring jurisdictions and the State to mitigate the situation,” ACFD said via Twitter. “The HazMat Team has taken steps in @ArlingtonVA County to minimize the effects on the environment.”
In the meantime, ACFD says people and pets should stay away from Four Mile Run downstream of Columbia Pike.
“Please keep all pets out of Four Mile Run until the #HazMat situation can be full mitigated,” the fire department added. The stream runs past the Shirlington dog park, where dog owners frequently let their pups off leash to go for a swim.
More from an Arlington County press release:
Residents and visitors are advised to avoid contact with — and keep their pets out of — Four Mile Run downstream of Columbia Pike for the next 24 to 48 hours.
At 6:29 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 31, Arlington County Hazmat Crews were dispatched to the 4200 block of S. Four Mile Run Drive for a chemical odor. The Arlington County Fire Department and the Arlington Department of Environmental Services determined that the source originated upstream of Arlington County, in a neighboring jurisdiction. Crews placed boom filtering devices in the water at various locations along Four Mile Run to contain the released product.
Public, pets, should stay out of Four Mile Run
People should not fish in the stream or have any contact with the water until further notice from the County. The advisory to avoid all contact is considered an extra precaution to allow the effect of the discharge to be diminished by natural flushing of the streams. Drinking water is not affected by the incident.
Anyone who has been in Four Mile Run and is experiencing medical symptoms, such as sore throat or eye irritation, should seek medical attention.
NOTE: The public is reminded that stream water can contain microorganisms that can make people sick, whether the stream is located in an urban area or in the middle of a forest. Even after the discharge is naturally flushed from the streams, the County’s normal precautions for safe use of streams apply. You can find information and safety tips on Arlington streams, including information on reporting stream pollution incidents, on the Department of Environmental Service website.
#Alert: Our HazMat Team is investigating a report of a chemical odor in the area of Barcroft Park. We have tracked the odor/sheen in the water upstream. @ArlingtonDES has mapped the piping and found the source to be outside the county. pic.twitter.com/riweJMyWBw
— Arlington Fire (@ArlingtonVaFD) October 31, 2019
#Update: The source of the spill into Four Mile Run was determined to be an underground oil tank in the area of S. Carlin Springs Road and Columbia Pike. A clean up contractor & our #HazMat team are on scene. Use caution in the area as there is a sheen of product on the roadway. pic.twitter.com/vsPO476qXf
— Arlington Fire (@ArlingtonVaFD) October 31, 2019
(Updated on 09/09/19) A Metrobus with a chemical leak that caused first responders to hospitalize the driver last week sickened a second driver after being placed back in service prematurely, union officials say.
An Arlington County Fire Department hazmat team responded to the Pentagon bus bay Thursday morning after the driver on Metrobus number 6360 reporting feeling sick and smelling a chemical odor.
“I proceeded on to 395 taking the Seminary Road exit to the HOV. As I proceeded that’s when the smell got stronger,” wrote the driver in a statement obtained by ARLnow. “As I am nearing the Pentagon, the smell continues to get stronger and a passenger begins coughing.”
The driver reported that passengers ran off the bus at Pentagon due to the “awful smell” and that she had a headache and was feeling a pain in her chest. When first responders arrived, she wrote, “I tried to explain the situation and then passed out.”
First responders said at the time they didn’t find anything hazardous on the bus, but did transport the driver to Virginia Hospital Center. A Metro spokesperson told ARLnow that they were not aware of a second problem after the morning incident.
“The bus was immediately shut off and taken out of service,” said WMATA spokeswoman Sherri Ly. “Upon inspection, an exhaust leak was identified and repairs made before the bus returned to service that evening. Metro did not receive any additional complaints that night and no further health issues have been substantiated.”
However, the union representing Metro employees, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, says a contracted bus garage in Lorton released the bus later that afternoon without fixing the problem — causing a second bus driver to feel ill.
“When leaving the yard I was coughing hard off fumes, and during the route passengers were also coughing,” the second driver said, according to a copy of the report obtained by ARLnow. (On Monday, a WMATA spokeswoman said they had not received a copy of the report.)
Union spokesman Brian Wivell said the afternoon driver is seeing a doctor and the morning driver visited the hospital again Monday for “follow-up work.” Another union representative said the morning driver “wasn’t in good condition at all” on Thursday and Friday and remained out of work Monday.
“We demand that Transdev respond to the safety concerns of its workers,” ATU Local 689 President Raymond Jackson said of the French company, to which Metro outsourced the management of the garage last year.
The union, which also bid on the contract, disputed Metro’s assertion that the garage contract saved money, and accused the transit agency of union busting. Since then, ATU has been locked in a bitter battle with Transdev over pay and working conditions, which recently boiled as members voted to authorize a strike.
“They’ve been raising alarm bells for months, flagging buses that have issues, and now a worker has gone to the hospital,” Jackson said of the Lorton garage. “This is the human cost of this company’s profits.”
Transdev did not respond to requests for comment.
An office building in Virginia Square has been evacuated after a reported chemical spill in the building.
Firefighters — including hazmat teams and medics — responded to the Ballston Gateway building at 3865 Wilson Blvd around 1:45 p.m., for a report of up to 20 people suffering medical symptoms after a coolant tower leaked chemicals into the building’s penthouse.
The building was evacuated amid a large fire department response, which is currently blocking at least one westbound lane of Wilson Blvd.
Some office workers on lower floors of the building have since been let back in. First responders on the scene radioed fire dispatch to report only a couple of people with minor symptoms, including eye irritation and nausea. There’s no word yet on which chemical might have leaked.
Thus far there has been no report of anyone being taken to the hospital.
The office building is home to a number of companies, including high-profile Arlington startup ThreatConnect.
#Breaking: Units on 3800 block of Wilson Blvd for reported chemical spill in Penthouse level of building. Crews assessing situation. No danger to public, but please avoid the area part of Wilson Blvd will be blocked while crews work to mitigate the situation. pic.twitter.com/NfRC9WQWEU
— Arlington Fire (@ArlingtonVaFD) August 22, 2019
Vernon Miles contributed to this report
One person was taken to the hospital after a hazmat incident at the Pentagon’s bus bay this morning.
Arlington County firefighters, including a hazmat team, were called to the bus terminal outside the Pentagon around 9 a.m. for a report of the driver of a Metrobus having medical symptoms after smelling a chemical odor on the bus.
A police officer also reported similar symptoms, according to scanner traffic. The officer was treated on the scene and released, but the driver was transported to Virginia Hospital Center for evaluation. The driver was reported to be in good condition, Arlington County Fire Department spokesman Capt. Ben O’Bryant said.
Firefighters did not find anything hazardous on the bus.
“Crews believe there might’ve been a refrigerant leak on Metrobus that caused a couple people to feel ill,” O’Bryant told ARLnow. “[The] bus was shut down, and no dangerous readings were found when crews ran meters through the bus.”
Shortly after the bus driver was transported, ACFD turned the scene over to WMATA.
(Updated at 2:10 p.m.) An SUV wound up in Four Mile Run creek in Bluemont Park this morning, prompting a hazmat response to contain a fuel spill.
The crash happened shortly before noon, near a parking lot adjacent to the intersection of N. Manchester Street and 4th Street N. It’s unclear how exactly the crash happened.
No injuries were reported. A woman could be seen sitting on the ground near the crash scene, being interviewed by police.
Arlington County firefighters placed booms in the creek to try to contain fuel from the SUV, some of which spilled into the creek and was visible as a sheen on the water.
Units from @ffxfirerescue & ACFD Hazmat Team responded to a car in 4 Mile Run creek this afternoon. Nobody was injured in accident. Hazmat placed booms close by & downstream to capture fluid leaks & remained on scene to contain any further leaks when vehicle was removed. pic.twitter.com/MbKiNABIJI
— Arlington Fire (@ArlingtonVaFD) March 20, 2019
Arlington Losing Big Office Tenant — “BAE Systems Inc. is moving its headquarters to Falls Church as part of a consolidation of its Northern Virginia office space… The move will also further ding Arlington County’s office vacancy rate, which at the end of 2017 was 20.6 percent.” [Washington Business Journal]
Hazmat Situation at Kaiser Permanente — Arlington County firefighters responded to a hazardous materials incident at Kaiser Permanente in Falls Church yesterday. Five people were evaluated by medics and, of them, two were transported to the hospital. [WJLA, Twitter, Twitter]
Red Top Development Groundbreaking Nears — “The Shooshan Co. has teamed up with Trammell Crow Residential on the first phase of its planned Red Top Cab site redevelopment in Clarendon, with groundbreaking slated for early next year. The partners closed Sept. 29 on their acquisition from The Red Top Cab Co. founder Neal Nichols of several parcels along Irving and Hudson streets for a listed consideration amount of nearly $28.2 million, according to Arlington County’s Recorder of Deeds.” [Washington Business Journal]
RIP Lance Newman and Tim Wise — Two notable Arlingtonians have died: “Tim Wise, the longtime president of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, died Friday in Fredericksburg after a 10-month battle with cancer and heart trouble… Lance Newman, one of four black students who in February 1959 began attending a previously all-white middle school in Arlington… had died after a short illness.” [InsideNova]
ACSO Launches Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign — “Breast cancer hits close to home for the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office, which has launched a campaign to raise awareness about early detection and preventative care. Over the last six years, two employees at the county’s sheriff’s office have been diagnosed with breast cancer.” [WUSA 9]
Forum Planned to Discuss Accessory Dwellings — “A forum looking at current regulations related to accessory-dwelling units in Arlington will be held on Monday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. at Central Library. Speakers will discuss how changes made to the county’s housing ordinances in 2017 impact the regulatory process, and will look at whether further changes are needed.” [InsideNova]