White powder in shed puts two in hospital

ANDREA O'NEIL
Last updated 05:00 28/01/2014
Plimmerton’s Barrie Maclean
CAMERON BURNELL/Fairfax NZ

DANGER ZONE: Plimmerton’s Barrie Maclean needed hospital treatment after disturbing a mystery container of white powder in his garden shed.

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A mystery white powder put two Plimmerton men in hospital, while 18 fire officers decontaminated a garden shed.

Barrie Maclean, 64, discovered a plastic container of powder while cleaning his shed, and invited neighbour Jay Havill, 19, round to help check what it was.

After smelling and touching the powder the pair began feeling ill and phoned the fire service, which arrived at 4pm. Four fire engines and a specialist hazardous materials vehicle went to the scene.

Firefighters spent 90 minutes at the house, putting the powder in a hazardous substances container, cordoning off Maclean's shed and assessing the men involved and their neighbours.

Porirua City Council staff were analysing the powder yesterday but did not yet know what it was. It had been left in the shed by a previous tenant was unlabelled.

An ambulance took Maclean and Havill to hospital for several hours to be tested and observed.

Maclean, who touched the powder, said his fingers burned, he got a rash on his hands, his tongue went numb and he felt nauseous.

Havill also got a numb tongue and felt queasy. The powder had smelled like cattle drench, he said.

Carl Mills, chief fire officer at Plimmerton Volunteer Fire Brigade, said the unknown substance could have been a fertiliser or a washing powder that became an irritant when mixed with water.

The men did the right thing by calling for help, Mills said.

"It wasn't an over-reaction on the behalf of anybody. We'll always treat it as the worst case until we're certain the problem is contained."

WHAT TO DO

Advice from the Fire Service on dealing with potential hazards in the garden shed:

Make sure the chemical products you buy are the ones you need

Don't store large amounts of toxic products

Label your containers well, and remove food labels from recycled containers

Store toxic products away from children: lock the shed or put containers on a high shelf

Make sure your container is fit for the purpose, and does not get wet in your shed if water can cause a chemical reaction

Call 111 if you are worried you have mishandled a chemical product

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