Open Valve Brings Big Chemical Spill

Friday, June 14, 2013 @ 03:06 PM gHale

When a valve remained open overnight, several thousand gallons of chemicals spilled out at Spectrum Products in Missoula, MT, prompting a hazardous materials response, officials said.

Several agencies are on the scene of the incident Wednesday, where between 5,000 and 7,000 gallons of citric, phosphoric, and sulfuric acids spilled out overnight.

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“They’re estimating between 5,000 to 7,000 gallons of a very diluted product,” said Chris Newman, deputy chief with Missoula Rural Fire. “They’re going to check the PH to see what the concentrations are.”

Later on Wednesday, the Missoula City-County Health Department said the PH registered between 3 and 4, making it “moderately acidic.” Officials were still working to determine the spill’s concentration at day’s end.

Hazmat crews donned Level B suits and air tanks before entering the facility as employees watched outside.

Spectrum’s parent company, Playcore, said a valve ended up left open Tuesday night, spilling water into a retention system. The water may have contacted chemicals held in the facility, the company said.

“As a precautionary measure, employees were immediately evacuated and we expect cleanup to be completed (Thursday) so that normal production can resume on Friday with minimal disruptions to our customers,” the company said.

Employees discover the spill Wednesday as they arrived for work. They contained the spill to the building’s interior using a bentonite material, similar to cat litter, Newman said.

“They have those (acids) in containers in full concentrations,” Newman said. “They go into the mixing vat. There’s always residual in the vat. It was close to being empty when they were washing it out and accidentally left the valve open.”

Environmental health officers were on the scene, along with medical crews. Hazmat teams set up a decontamination site before crews entered the building.

“In higher concentrations, they (acids) can be dangerous,” Newman said. “It’s all dependent on the concentrations. Soda ash is mostly used to clean up these types of chemicals.”

Playcore produces sports, fitness and aquatic products, along with pigmented surface coverings. Spectrum, which operates under Playcore, produces pool products at its Missoula plant.

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