suspicious cloud that descended over a portion of Highway 9 in Parkville last Thursday still has many in the town discussing both its origins and the city’s response to the matter.
Officials from the South Platte Fire District maintain that the fog emanated from the Park University Commercial Underground. Explosions from mining operations are being blamed in the incident that saw members of the Platte County Sheriff’s Department, Parkville Police and South Platte Fire respond on Thursday night. Emergency crews from North Kansas City, Excelsior Springs and Smithville also responded to the scene. The cloud dissipated and the “all clear” sign was given at around 10:30 p.m.
The cloud was the topic of concern and curious debate around downtown Parkville on Friday morning. Jim McCall, owner of Papa Frank’s restaurant in downtown Parkville, said he and his staff didn’t learn about the cloud until after the event occurred.
“(Parkville police) were standing at the corner, but they never said anything to us,” McCall said, adding that the reason may have been due to the “closed” sign in his restaurant building. Still, McCall said, there were patrons and staff still in the restaurant at the time.
Patrons at the Stone Canyon Pizza Co. were told to stay inside and turn off ventilation units. Visitors to English Landing Park were evacuated.
The scare even affected a swim meet being held at nearby Riss Lake. Parkville Mayor Kathryn Dusenberry was in attendance and made the decision to cancel the meet after calling 911 to confirm rumors of the cloud.
“We sent everyone home as soon as we found out,” Dusenberry said. “It was much ado about nothing. The HAZMATs went down there to check it out and a lot of taxpayer money was spent.”
Dusenberry said she was more alarmed by the fact that neither she nor any of Parkville’s aldermen were notified of the incident. Dusenberry promised that actions would be taken to ensure elected officials are kept informed in case of future emergency events.
“A policy and a phone tree for the mayor and aldermen is being put in place,” Dusenberry said. “It will be voted on at the July 6th meeting of the aldermen.”
Parkville Police Chief Bill Hudson said that this was the first incident of its kind in the 10 years he has served on the Parkville police force. Hudson said it was his belief that the situation was an isolated one and one that was easy to handle. He reported no extraordinary occurrences, other than the cloud itself.
Captain Frank Hunter of the Platte County Sheriff’s Department said that the incident began with a 911 call at around 8:30 p.m from a driver on Highway 9 who described a “brownish looking cloud that smelled like chlorine.” Hunter said the department shut down the highway and contacted the appropriate agencies for emergency response.
South Platte Fire Department spokesperson Greg Laslo said that he believes the cause of the cloud was due to limestone dust. More importantly, he said, the HAZMAT teams determined that the gas wasn’t toxic.
Laslo said that HAZMAT teams used a device called a Drager Tube to sample the air for chlorine, ammonia and explosive gases. He said they also used Ph paper strips to check for corrosive materials. None were found. He said one woman was treated at the scene by MAST ambulance services for eye irritation and later hospitalized for observation purposes.
“It could be fog, who knows? Realistically, at that point, as soon as we figured out it wasn’t deadly or corrosive, that was really what we were worried about finding out,” Laslo said.
Finger pointing begins
A spokesperson from the company charged with mining the limestone in the Commercial Underground, Martin Marietta Materials, denied that the cloud emanated from the Underground or was in any way connected with the company’s operations there. “It’s sketchy,” said Phil Holland, general manager for Martin Marietta.
Holland explained that the company was not doing any underground activity at the time of the reported incident. “Our stance is, we don’t see the connection (between the reports and the company’s activities). We don’t see how it went from a gas cloud that was burning people’s eyes and throats to lime dust. I’m not sure what (Parkville emergency officials) are talking about.”
Holland said that lime dust doesn’t typically burn on contact.
“If you stand on a gravel road in the country and a car goes by, you’re going to get dusty but you’re not going to burn your eyes and throat,” Holland remarked.
He said that even if the company had been mining, he was unaware of any limestone cloud that failed to dissipate soon after the work. He said the company had done some light work in the underground during the day, but no cloud was kicked up. He was skeptical that such a cloud could hang around the underground for the better part of the afternoon, pass through the ventilation intact, and then hang around downtown Parkville for the better part of two hours.
“I think we were a convenient answer, quite honestly.”
Workers from the Underground who spoke to The Landmark on the condition of anonymity said that Martin Marietta hadn’t done any heavy work there in three weeks. They said the company didn’t do any blasting there in any event, discounting the “residue” from explosives theory offered up by the South Platte Fire District. One worker said that he has observed the mining operations and it isn’t even necessary for him to wear a mask.
In addition, The Landmark learned from the National Weather Service that the wind was blowing from the west, toward the underground, during the time of the incident, making it unlikely that the fog could travel toward the spot of the incident.
Laslo said the fire department was not trying to point the finger at anybody.
“We’re not trying to get anybody in trouble,” Laslo said. “But our main concern was finding out that (the cloud) wasn’t toxic.”
Some Parkville citizens offered the theory that the cloud might have emanated from the Parkville Quarry on Highway 9 or the Parkville Wastewater Treatment Plant on Highway FF, just west of downtown Parkville.
Gary Cunningham, Division Manager for the wastewater plant, said that although fog does sometimes accumulate near the plant, they don’t use any chlorine at the wastewater plant.
“Chlorine gas is highly toxic,” Cunningham said. “If it had escaped, you’d have seen dead worms in the area and it would have even killed the grass.”
A review of the wastewater plant’s daily records revealed that nothing unusual took place at the plant on June 17.
Cunningham said that sewage water was usually warmer than ground water. As such, if the temperature was to drop, water vapor could occur.
“You could have a fog if your dew point drops below a certain point,” Cunningham suggested.
Multiple sources have pointed to the Missouri American Water treatment plant located in downtown Parkville, very near to where the cloud was first reported. According to sources, the plant reportedly uses both chlorine and hydrated lime in their operations. According to the Department of Labor, exposure to hydrated lime can cause irritation to eyes and open cuts. As of this writing, representatives from the company could not be reached.