Bargain barrel of garlic proves costly to buyer

January 3, 2007

When a Wyandotte County man bought a salvage drum for $5, he had no idea it ultimately would cost him another $1,500.

When the man bought the 30-gallon barrel in late November from a Grandview, Mo., company, he thought he was getting a barrel suitable for a barbecue smoker. What he got, though, was a container filled with garlic oil -- an industrial food product.

"You could not buy this for your house," said Chuck Magaha, Leavenworth County's emergency management director. "It has to be under specific guidelines that you would insert this in a product. ... I'm assuming you would use it in mass production of garlic butter, where you would inject just little bits of it."

The garlic odor coming from the barrel was very strong.

"It was making him sick to his stomach, and he closed the barrel back up and waited until he could get rid of it," he said.

Apparently, the man dumped the barrel on Golden Road, east of Linwood, where Leavenworth County public works employees found it last week.

"The individual confessed that he did it," Magaha said.

But because county officials didn't know what was in the plastic-encased container, the discovery was treated with kid gloves.

"The barrel was wrapped in plastic," Magaha said about what he saw when he arrived on Golden Road. "It had another big, thick bag over it. ... We didn't know what we had."

So, assuming the worst, Magaha called in the county's bomb team and the team's robot, which is equipped with cameras and an articulating arm.

"It has a whole bunch of neat features that we could utilize and sit a good 1,000 feet away and be out of harm's way," Magaha said.

The robot went to work. The 126-pound barrel, which appeared to be leaking, was moved onto the road surface by the robot, which also stripped away the plastic.

"The writing on the container was in Spanish, so we couldn't make out where the product was from," Magaha said. "... The product did turn out to be garlic."

Inside some of the plastic was a packing slip, which Magaha traced to an Arkansas trucking company and then to the Grandview salvage yard.

As they worked to determine what was inside the barrel, Magaha also required anyone working with the container wear chemical protective suits and self-contained breathing apparatus.

And Magaha admits he was chided for being overly cautious.

But back at his office, Magaha researched the garlic oil and discovered that it shouldn't be inhaled and that it can irritate eyes and skin.

"It's dangerous garlic, when it's in raw form like that," he said.

And disposal of the barrel will cost about $1,500, Magaha said.

"It's not like you can just take it out and dump it in a landfill," he said.

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