Alexandria public safety officials evacuated about 200 people from the 303-unit Place One condominium near Landmark Shopping Center yesterday afternoon after an industrial-strength cleaner being used to clean a kitchen drain spread sulfuric acid fumes throughout the building.
Officials said a maintenance worker had poured a half gallon of a product known as Liquid Dynamite down a clogged pipe and it caused a strong stench as it vaporized.
The building was evacuated shortly after 3:30 p.m. as Alexandria fire and rescue squads poured water down drains, opened windows and placed fans in hallways. Three hours later the residents were allowed to return.
"It could have been a dangerous situation because the chemical was highly corrosive," said Jim Hicks, Alexandria fire chief and deputy director of public safety.
No one was injured, and some residents complained that officials overreacted.
Elaine Burks, a 15th floor resident who is partly sighted, said fire officials tried to force her from her apartment three times. "It's a serious problem for me to go downstairs because of my eyesight," she said. Burks said officials threatened to move her bodily from the apartment if she did not comply. She said she called the manager, Shirley Bailey, who "said that they [officials] didn't 'know what the hell they were doing.' "
Barry Robinson, who lives on the first floor, said he came home in the middle of the evacuation and found that his door had been forced open by police. "It seems like they went far beyond what they had to to cure the situation."
But other residents seemed casual about the affair. Claudette Thompson, also a first floor resident, said that when she came home at 5:50 p.m. "no one seemed to know what was going on. But it seemed like a relaxed situation."
Sulfuric acid can cause respiratory problems and in high concentrations is toxic, said fire officials.
The drain opener should be used only in 8-ounce quantities, fire officials said. They said a worker trying to clear a clog in the apartment of a ninth-floor resident poured a half gallon down a kitchen sink. Neither the worker nor the resident was identified.