Open Valve Leads to AL Acid Spill

Wednesday, August 24, 2016 @ 12:08 PM gHale


An open valve in a containment tank led to a sulfuric acid spill in Mulberry Fork in Alabama, officials said.

Just about 900 gallons of sulfuric acid mixed with stormwater and released into the Mulberry Fork Wednesday at the American Proteins chicken rendering plant in Hanceville, AL.

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While an investigation is ongoing, Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) spokesman Jerome Hand said they believe they know how the spill happened.

“The release occurred when a supply line from one of their outside storage tanks leaked into, basically a tank containment system, and that failed because it had an open valve,” Hand said. “It’s early in the investigation, and I hate to say it was a one-time thing, but we think we know the reason.

“It’s still under investigation, that’s just what we’ve found out so far. We’ll continue to look into all aspects of the spill.”

Hand said the release happened around 4 p.m. Wednesday and the department received notification by American Proteins at 5:51 p.m. He said ADEM contacted the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which was investigating the effects on wildlife.

“We were out there that night taking samples and we’re still waiting for the results from the lab on those, so it’s still under investigation,” Hand said.

The Mulberry Fork and the Locust Fork converge to form the Black Warrior River at the Bankhead Reservoir.

The plant’s general manager Jason Spann told the Cullman Times newspaper the spilled material contained about 150 gallons of sulfuric acid, mixed with about 750 gallons of storm water.

He said the company was cooperating with ADEM and other state agencies in the investigation and would take steps to “ensure that this type of spill does not occur in the future.”

American Proteins is a poultry processing plant, rendering offal, organs or other parts of the chicken not desired for human consumption into pet food and high-protein livestock feed.

American Proteins is the largest such operation in the world and its 600-acre Hanceville plant employs 230 people and can process 36 million pounds of offal per week.

The release of that much sulfuric acid into a flowing river is very uncommon and leaves state agencies and environmental groups somewhat out of their element in determining the next steps.

“This is the first time I’ve heard of a spill of this since I’ve been at ADEM,” Hand said. “We’re concerned any time something gets in the water that shouldn’t.”

Hand referred questions about potential sulfuric acid health effects to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

According to a Centers for Disease Control fact sheet, sulfuric acid is highly corrosive to skin and eyes and can cause severe burns, blisters, redness or pain. The recommended treatment for exposure is to remove contaminated clothing, remove contact lenses in eyes, rinse skin thoroughly with clean water, and seek professional medical attention.

Sulfuric acid can also form harmful vapors during chemical reactions, though it’s unclear whether that is of concern in an outdoor environment. The CDC said sulfuric acid is harmful to aquatic organisms.