The thief who swiped a semitrailer in eastern Baltimore County may have gotten more than expected -- 9,600 pounds of toxic material.
County police are looking for the 53-foot-long trailer, which was headed for a Georgia warehouse when it was stolen July 5. Its cargo included 96 steel drums of chromium trioxide, an orange, flaky, toxic material used in car manufacturing.
"There is a lot of concern about the truck's contents," said William J. Nutter, vice president and general manager of Baltimore-based Pursuit Transportation, which owns the trailer. "The oxidizers can be hazardous to people's health.
"If someone takes it off the trailer and throws it on the ground or if it somehow gets wet, then it'll become a corrosive like battery acid. It'll seep into the ground and into the water system. We want the trailer found before something like that can happen."
Police said that about 4 p.m. July 5, a driver for Pursuit parked the Great Dane trailer at an envelope company lot in the 6700 block of Pulaski Highway and drove the tractor home for dinner. When he returned five hours later, the trailer was gone.
Inside were 13,000 pounds of oxidizers -- some not dangerous -- used to chrome-plate auto parts for Atotech, a manufacturer of plating chemicals and equipment. The trailer also carried 20,000 pounds of steel wire for another company.
The trailer and its contents are valued at $260,000, police said.
The trailer, with Maine tags 9912074, was described as white with an emblem of a dog on it. Trailer number 95045 is on the front, and all four sides carry placards that warn of oxidizers on board. The name Pursuit is in small writing on the front of the trailer, police said.
Pursuit is offering a $1,000 reward for information on the trailer's whereabouts. Anyone with information should call police at 887-2198.
"We've got some leads we're working on now . . ., " said Detective Mike T. Burton, a county auto theft investigator. "It's easy to hide a trailer because you can go to any truck stop and park it between a bunch of other trailers. We've checked every truck stop we could on the major highways and any place someone might have dumped a trailer."
Detective Burton said another Great Dane trailer was stolen from the 3000 block of Eastern Ave. about the same time, but he thinks the thefts are unrelated. "There have been a number of trailers that have been stolen on the Route 40 corridor over the years," he said.
"We believe that someone stole that trailer and when they found out what was inside, they didn't know what to do with it because the material is very user-specific. So they probably just dumped or parked the entire trailer somewhere," he said.
"As far as I know, the chemicals inside are not dangerous unless someone opens the steel drums," Detective Burton said. "That's why we want to find it soon. The stuff inside can be a hazard to people who don't handle it properly."
Steve Bellavita, a director of manufacturing at Atotech, agreed.
"If someone gets the flaky stuff on a body part, they should just wash the area with copious amounts of water and call a physician," he said. "There really is no immediate danger.
"The compounds aren't going to explode or anything. . . . We just hope that whoever has the trailer is taking the right precautions in handling the contents."