Disaster Narrowly Averted at Petworth Spray Park: “It was a nearly full jug of muriatic (hydrochloric) acid with no top on it!”


A reader reports:

“This afternoon [Sunday] I took my 2 year old son to the Petworth water park– the one at 8th and Taylor – for its first open weekend. It was packed. Frequent visitors to that water park may notice that (what I assume are) the filters/pumps are located in the corner under large green lids a few feet from the edge of the paved play area. Next to one of these lids, towards the fence, was a white jug. I thought nothing of it since kids bring all kinds of containers to the water park. But when my little boy went over there, I followed because it had the look of a pool chemical container. I’m glad I did because it when I picked it up and, assuming it was actually full of water, sniffed it… Whoa! not water! My nose and eyes still hurt an hour later. It was a nearly full jug of muriatic (hydrochloric) acid with no top on it! (Photo attached.) This is dangerous stuff, very poisonous, and can cause serious damage to eyes. It etches concrete and cleans calcium stains and, as the photo shows, is used as a pool chemical (diluted in the water), which is why I imagine it was there. The jug is emblazoned in big red letters with: Keep away from children! With little kids running around dumping containers of water on eachother, imagine what would have happened if a 5 year old had dumped this on themselves or a friend!

Clearly this chemical was used by city workers/contractors when they turned the water park systems on to prepare the water and it was carelessly left there. Since no one was staffing the park’s building on Memorial Day, I reluctantly dumped the chemical down a storm drain and disposed of the container.

Assuming my guess is right and this was left by city staff when they turned on the water system, it was an incredibly negligent thing to do and could have ended with a very serious injury or even a poisoning death. I’m putting this is in writing to the city as well.”

73 Comment

  • Down the storm drain!?!?!?!

    • that’s exactly what I was thinking. yikes…

      • OK – what would you suggest the OP have done?

        • I honestly would have put it in a public trashcan before pouring it down the storm drain. Although neither is ideal with the lack of proper cap.

          • I think that keeping it in undiluted form, but then hiding it at the bottom of a trashcan, so some poor unsuspecting sanitation worker can spill it on himself, is about the worst possible solution, other than filling the sippy cups of the kids at the park. Even with a cap, you’re risking the bottle breaking and spewing undiluted acid on the unsuspecting. *Much* better to dilute it and get it out of harm’s way.

        • By pouring it down the storm drain, OP violated the Clean Water Act. Most of our storm drains empty into Rock Creek or the Potomac. Don’t throw chemicals down the storm drain. Take ’em to Fort Totten on Saturday when they do hazmat collection.

          • Prince Of Petworth

            You know what you also shouldn’t do? Leave an open bottle of hydrochloric acid at a children’s spray park. Kudos to OP for acting to make sure no children were scarred or worse.

          • I’m with you, POP. I’m glad OP got it away from the kids, but there are many better options than pouring it down a storm drain where it can also cause hazards to other people and the environment.

          • Prince Of Petworth

            I hear ya but taking it to the Ft. Totten transfer station is not a realistic option in this scenario. God forbid it should happen again I guess I would call 911 or city services.

          • HaileUnlikely

            I’d be tempted to pour it down the drain for the express purpose of spiting the city (collectively) for leaving an uncapped gallon bottle of HCl at the children’s park until *I* came along and did something about it.

          • NW has a combined sanitary and storm system. That means that the pool water gets emptied into the same system that she poured the jug into. In other words, the system is already getting the same chemicals poured into it and it is designed to handle them.

  • Danger Poison Panic Blinding Poison Danger!
    So you poured it down a STORM DRAIN???

    • gotryit

      Dilution is the solution. There’s a lot of water in a storm drain that would take the acidity level down pretty quickly.

      • Yes – It’s used as a pool cleaner, and in other ways that don’t; require special hazardous waste disposal. Dumping it down the storm drain isn’t going to hurt anything.

        • gotryit

          Seriously, the “OMG-toxins!” people are kind of pissing me off today. Please learn more science.

          • I generally quite like you, but today you need to learn more reading. The issue isn’t the toxins, it’s the hypocrisy.

    • HaileUnlikely

      If you want to fault the OP for lacking a PhD in chemistry, just say so. It is patently obvious to virtually everybody that what the OP did, even if not optimal, was much much better than most plausible alternatives that are available to a normal citizen who didn’t drive their kid to the spray park in a hazmat tanker.

  • I found two partially filled jugs of this while doing a clean-up in Fort Dupont Park last month (thankfully capped) – it is SERIOUSLY nasty stuff.

  • Was this the stuff Walter would use to “dispose of evidence” in Breaking Bad?

  • I’ll give the OP the benefit of the doubt and assume that pouring the bottle down the storm drain was the best possible answer to the problem that he/she could come up with at the time. (How was he/she to carry away the noxious chemical in an uncapped, possibly full container while juggling a 2-year-old, stroller, and baby stuff, without risking burning anyone?) That said, does anyone know how to properly dispose of the stuff? Should he/she have called the police for that?

    • Hazardous materials can be disposed of at the Fort Totten Transfer Station. See:

    • west_egg

      Yeah, I would’ve called 911 before dumping it down the drain. OP should also follow up with an email to our new councilmember. Let’s see if he’s any better at dealing with constituents than his predecessor.

    • I would think a call to DC Fire/EMS would have made for a better disposal than in the storm drain. But, in the panic of wanting to get it away from my child (nope, don’t have any) and other children, I think the OP probably did what he or she thought best. Calm. It. Down. with the attacks.

      • It’s the hypocrisy that gets me. Such a dangerous chemical that it merits an overwrought letter and many exclamation points, but not so dangerous that the letter writer couldn’t wait 5 minutes for the cops to show up and instead introduced it raw to our already-rotting infrastructure without benefit of dilution or evaporation. Letter writer has no way of knowing how much water was standing in the drain for dilution purposes.

        • gotryit

          The sewer system is generally less sensitive than children’s eyes.

          • Again, how about waiting a few minutes to turn it over to someone who could cope. Cops, poison control, fire dept, whoever. There is a police department one block away. Not that much further than the closest storm drain. This is like finding a loaded gun and firing all the rounds into the air (or down a storm drain, if you prefer) to keep them from being fired AT someone. I mean, it’ll *probably* be ok. But who thinks that’s a reasonable thing to do with an item that instils this level of panic?

          • gotryit

            To run with your analogy, I’d say it’s more like someone finding a loaded gun and removing the bullets, which I’d say is a pretty safe move. Unless you think “OMG! bullets are so dangerous!”
            You definitely could call police / fire, and I wouldn’t fault you for it. But there is this whole crazy crime spree going on in Petworth that I’d rather the police focus on.

        • pouring it down the storm drain is no different than using it as intended in the water park. it gets diluted and ultimately delivered to the sewage treatment system, unless a heavy rain occurs and causes an overflow into the potomac. very different than a child accidently coming in contact with it undiluted.

  • OMG. OMG. You poured this stuff down a storm drain. I can’t believe it. You could have called 911 and they would have sent someone out to address it, or you could have taken it to a fire station or police station. But I can’t believe you poured it down a storm drain. What you did is a danger to the sewer lines (which are old and decrepit enough already), let alone any people who work down there or animals who venture down there. Plus, that stuff is making its way out to the Potomac now. It will be diluted by the time it gets there, but that poor waterway sure doesn’t need more pollution.

    • It’s used as pool cleaner – it’s already in the sewer system. Where do you expect it would go after the DPW worker who left it there used it for its intended purpose?
      The hyperventilating over the OP’s actions is really overwrought.

      • People are saying hydrocholoric acid is fine if diluted, and then assuming that it will be sufficiently diluted via the sewer system. This is incorrect. To dispose of it safely, it should be diluted and neutralized. We should not downplay the irresponsibility of dumping a container of undiluted hydrocholoric acid into the sewer system. The sewer system is not an “out of sight, out of mind” hazardous chemical disposal system. And, for those people noting that the stuff is put in pools, hydrocholoric acid heavily diluted by pool water is different from a jug of the undiluted stuff.
        But, of course, the root of the irresponsibility is whoever left the stuff at the spray park. I hope that the workers/contractors are held accountable. There could have been a terrible outcome.

    • Sure she could have called 911 but unless she has 45 min to kill, this is NOT a priority call for cops. I have called when I see fights breaking out and the cops are slow to respond.

  • Really…. accidentally leaving a common chemical found around a swimming pool to lower ph warrants a blog post about the negligence of the pool staff, the decision to pour it all down a storm water drain, and questions about calling the police? Seriously? Were there really no staff anywhere to be found? No lifeguard? Are we really so afraid of everything and so quick to point fingers and dream up disastrous consequences that common sense goes out the window? And then we have to have a discussion about it?

    • OK… didn’t’ t know it was an unattended park. My bad. Sorry.

    • Whether a chemical is dangerous to kids/pets doesn’t depend on how common it is.

    • It’s not hard to “dream up disastrous consequences”.

      If some kid picked up the open bottle, and drank from it, or spilled it on himself, it would cause acid burns.

      That’s not good.

  • FYI, it’s used to clean things. So it ends up in storm drains/sewers anyways. Go grab a white towel and DON’T PANIC. http://www.doityourself.com/stry/6-best-uses-for-muriatic-acid#b

  • Honestly, this should be fine to dump down a storm drain. It will be diluted with water, which is how this is used for cleaning. It all eventually ends up down the drain regardless!
    If anything, the storm drain got a good cleaning. This isn’t the same as dumping oil or grease down the drain – those are not water soluble.

  • I like that all the alarmists are ignoring that this chemical’s method of application automatically means it will end up in our water system and that it would dilute once present on a large sewer system. You’d be happier if you didn’t enjoy being offended.

  • Hey all, lab rat at walter reed here. Honestly, pouring it down the storm drain is definitely not optimal, but I wouldn’t call 911 either. HCl is straight up acid and will burn your skin. No guarantee cops would know that. Poison control should be the first call in this situation.

    Ways I’ve disposed of the stuff:

    1) Pour it down the drain with the water running, VERY, VERY SLOWLY. If I *had* to pour what looks like 2 gallons of that stuff down my sink, I would do it over the course of about 8 hours.

    2) Neutralize it with NaOH (which makes salt water) and pour it down the drain. Not sure where you find NaOH outside a lab setting, though.

    • Hey there, Lab Rat! Thank you for science. Calling Poison Control seems really reasonable.

  • It’s not used to clean pools. It’s used to lower the PH in pools, for comfort and so the cleaning agents work better.

  • Can someone who faults the writer for dumping it down the drain care to elaborate on why they think this is the wrong course of action?

    • I’m certainly in the “children’s eyes are more precious than storm drains” camp, but since you asked…It’s entirely possible that the storm drain was dry, so that muriatic acid will sit in the sump of that storm drain until the next rain. In the meantime, that puddle will continually evaporate and you will have a cloud of gaseous HCI that probably won’t blind anyone, but will cause damage to eyes and lungs.

      Like labrat said, the way to dispose of this stuff is in hundreds of gallons of water or an alkaline solution.

  • Prince Of Petworth

    “HCl is straight up acid and will burn your skin” people seem to be completely missing this point – and the fact that it’s a freaking children’s spray park with 2-10 year olds running around. And there was no freaking cap on it. Good lord. Let’s focus people.

  • OP Please please notify DPR, and the Rec center manager and COPY your councilmember. This is just so wrong. I am so tired of the half ass maintenance folks at DPR.

  • OP here…

    I am surely breaking all the rules of internet commenting by feeding the trolls, but here goes…

    RE: Storm drain. As I said in my note to POP, I was reluctant to pour it down a storm drain, but there wasn’t any obvious alternative. There was no staff at the park (Memorial Day holiday) and the park building was locked. The jug had no cap so I couldn’t well walk it home easily with a toddler. And putting it open in a trash can seemed likely to cause injury to an unsuspecting trash collector. I considered calling 911 but no one was hurt or in immediate danger once I had picked up the chemical so it didn’t feel 911-appropriate. I was generally hesitant to put it down at little kiddo height long enough to google around until I found a better option. The drain had moving water in it and clearly that stuff can be safe when diluted. Was it my preferred choice? Of course not. But it was best in the situation.

    RE: Further action. Yes, I am sending a note to relevant authorities.

    Thanks to the Prince of Petworth, dcd, gotryit, HaileUnlikely, FridayGirl, Caroline, brightwoodess, EH, Anonymous, jh, Lab Rat, Shawess, mtpresident, and anyone else I missed for being nice interneters.

    • Points taken, but re. “I considered calling 911 but no one was hurt or in immediate danger once I had picked up the chemical so it didn’t feel 911-appropriate” — 911 is for ALL police calls, not just emergency ones.
      Calling 911, specifying “non-emergency” and explaining the situation would have been a good place to start in a situation like this, even if the uncapped bottled of hydrochloric acid wouldn’t have been a police matter per se.

      • Yeah, so 911 is for emergencies. If you call 911 and say this isn’t an emergency, you’re still talking to a 911 dispatcher. http://mpdc.dc.gov/service/hotlines-tip-lines-and-important-numbers

        Having said that, people call 911 for lots of things that I don’t consider an emergency, like a terrible haircut or someome being rude to them, so it’s a matter of interpretation. Certainly, the fire department would know what to do with this.

        You could have dialed 311 also and waited in phone tree hell for someone to figure out what agency handles this, but you could have called 911.

        • “people call 911 for lots of things that I don’t consider an emergency, like a terrible haircut or someone being rude to them.” I have so many thoughts/feelings about this but right now I can only say HAHAHAHA.

        • MPD leadership (e.g. Fourth District Commander Wil Manlapaz) have said it on multiple occasions: 911 is for ALL POLICE CALLS. Not just emergencies.
          However, MPD’s text number (50411) is only for tips on crimes that MPD is trying to solve — it’s not the text equivalent of the 911 phone number.

    • 911 is the number for all EMS dispatch, emergency or not. They’ll triage your call. In this case, it would have been to the DCFD for hazmat response.

    • Hey there OP,

      Don’t forget that the fault here is entirely on the city workers/contractors and not on you. I think your course of action given the circumstances was level-headed and appropriate. The sewer piping will not suffer from an isolated incident, and you potentially saved a child from injuring him/herself. Good on you for sending a note to relevant authorities. I think we can all enter the number for poison control into our phones and be on the lookout in our respective neighborhoods no make sure this isn’t a common occurrence.

  • This is so stunningly negligent.

Comments are closed.