An employee discovered the suspicious package around 7:40 a.m. Wednesday morningafter noticing a breach in the seal of a rail car's dome. The employee followed protocol and contacted Homeland Security.
Decatur police and fire departments, the Huntsville bomb squad and the FBI responded to the Daikin plant on Highway 20. The plant is about seven miles from the TVA Browns Ferry nuclear power plant.
Authorities said the rail car where the suspicious package was found contained a hazardous material called hydrogen fluoride, which turns into hydrofluoric acid if dissolved in water. The chemical is hazardous and can cause burns on the skin and damage lungs if breathed in, according to the CDC.
As a precaution, about 13,000 students at schools within a five-mile radius were evacuated. People within a 25-mile radius of the Daikin plant were also cautioned to be ready to evacuate if necessary.
Highway 20 was shut down from Highway 67 to the Lawrence County line, according to Sgt. John Crouch with Decatur PD. The Coast Guard also closed river traffic from Mallard Fox Industrial Park to the Highway 31 river bridge.
A Huntsville bomb squad sent in a robot to x-ray the package and determine if it was explosive. A little before 1 p.m., the FBI confirmed the suspicious device was not explosive.
EMA officials later said the suspicious package contained marijuana. Sgt. Crouch said the package was about the size of a suitcase.
Authorities say the rail car the package was attached to had crossed the border into Mexico, so they believe the marijuana may have originated in Mexico. The rail car had also traveled through Brownsville TX, Louisiana and Mississippi before stopping in Decatur.
Sgt. Crouch said he is pleased overall with the safety procedures carried out today. Agencies checked with area hospitals for antidotes in case of a hydrogen fluoride contamination, and the Daikin plant had some antidotes on hand already.
Morgan County EMA official Eddie Hicks said the drills they have in place for the TVA Browns Ferry nuclear plant came into play today.
""We had to assume
the worse. You had a 79 ton tank full of volatile chemical that potentially
had an explosive devise attached to it. We had to take it at the worst case and
it turned out better," Hicks said.
His preliminary assessment of the response was that it went well. The EMA and other agencies will further assess the situation on Friday.
FOX6 News has a crew in Decatur covering this story. Watch FOX6 News at 5 and 6 for the most current details and check back with this story for updates.
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