by: Gary Horcher Updated:SEATTLE —
For decades, neighbors living near an eccentric Green Lake chemist had no idea they were living next to a home containing staggering amounts of dangerous, poisonous, and even explosive chemicals.
The man who owns the home in the 6000 block of Fifth Avenue Northeast was described by neighbors as kind, but eccentric. EPA investigators describe him as a former chemical engineer and a hoarder of extremely dangerous chemicals.
Even veteran investigators with the EPA's emergency chemical abatement team were stunned by what they saw in the house. “We brought extra personnel in today to help address identifying the chemicals, and get them packed up,” said Jeffrey Rodin of the EPA's emergency unit.
“We suspect by the time we're done, there will be well over 1,000 individual containers that we have pulled out and packaged for safe disposal,” he said.
Investigators tell KIRO 7 the homeowner is a single man in his 90s. They also say he has been hoarding dangerous chemicals for at least four decades. The inside of his home appears as if it's a laboratory for a movie mad scientist. Neighbors knew he experimented with chemicals, but the interior was kept a close secret.
Inside the home, investigators found chemicals such as nitric acid--which is used to make rocket fuel.
Investigators told KIRO 7 there were also large amounts of hydrofluoric acid, which can dissolve human skin and stop the heart from beating within minutes of contact.
“You know, from my backyard I could see that he had chemical drums, but I didn't really think anything of it,” said Adam Catola, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than eight years.
Other concerned neighbors did call Seattle police, and when they and the EPA stepped in, they immediately ordered the man out, declaring the home a threat to the surrounding neighborhood.
On Tuesday, dozens of EPA investigators dressed in hazardous material suits carried out jars and metal containers full of chemicals. Dr. Rajni Jutla says she has walked past her friendly neighbor’s home at least a thousand times. She described him as pleasant, kind and always smiling. She had no idea what was going on inside.
The EPA estimates the total cost of the cleanup could approach $100,000. Investigators say a court order could force the man to pay for the cleanup himself. Investigators do not expect criminal charges to be filed against the homeowner.