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Oklahoma County disposing of environmentally hazardous tornado debris

Oklahoma County highway crews are working to keep potentially hazardous tornado debris from harming the environment. Debris is sorted or burned in a pit outside Harrah.

BY JOHN ESTUS Modified: May 24, 2010 at 6:00 am •  Published: May 24, 2010

Bu
rning debris such as pipes, certain metals, oils, fertilizers and tires can be hazardous, so it must be disposed of in other ways.

"We’re getting those kinds of things and bringing them out here and dividing up what we can burn, mainly vegetation, and the rest of it we’re recycling or properly disposing of,” Oklahoma County District 2 Commissioner Brian Maughan said.

For example, the sheets of tin metal that once were the Johnson family’s car restoration shop will go to the sheet metal pile at the burn pit after they are unwrapped from the trees where the tornado threw them. From there, the metal will be hauled to a sheet metal recycler.

Other items needing special disposal include piles of roof shingles, home appliances, propane gas tanks, compressors, batteries, hazardous liquids and electric transformers.

The piles have been growing in recent days, giving the burn pit an apocalyptic feel.

"It’s not pretty out here,” Maughan said.

Johnson’s property isn’t, either.

He stares at the rubble where the car restoration shop once stood and remembers his father-in-law, who built the shop so he could restore vintage Ford Thunderbirds.

"We lost the shop this year the same week he died last year,” Johnson said.

Some of his father-in-law’s rusted, busted Thunderbirds now rest under a debris-laden tree. Others are buried in rubble a couple yards away, where the shop once stood.

"Three of the old ’Birds are still in it (the former shop),” Johnson said.

"Haven’t got enough debris off the top of them yet to really tell what shape they’re in. You can see the hood on one of them curled up. The other car, the windshield’s busted out of it.”

Johnson doesn’t call it debris. Or trash. Or rubble.

"It’s just our stuff,” he said.