Third acid spill occurs at plant

FALLON - A third hydrochloric acid spill in less than two weeks occurred Wednesday at the Fallon water treatment facility.

"It's just a very unfortunate series of events," said City Engineer Jim Souba. "We are definitely making sure we keep everyone safety-concerned. We're going to do everything in our power to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Water treatment operations were not interrupted.

The third spill came after a 10,000-gallon acid spill during a delivery last Monday, and a second spill of about 250 gallons last Tuesday when a gasket on a 330-gallon chemical tote came loose. On each occasion mitigation efforts built into the facility operated effectively and no one was injured.

"The spills have all been properly contained," Souba said. "They've all been properly mitigated. It's just been a terrible series of bad luck that's led to this."

Souba said that at about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday about 330 gallons of hydrochloric acid spilled outside near the acid containment building after a portable tote fell off the back of a flatbed truck and cracked open.

"It didn't go anywhere except for dirt and gravel," said city spokeswoman Abbi Holtom Whitaker.

Souba said a number of factors led to the tote falling, from heavy grading on the road to a fast turn and sloshing, which created momentum.

Nevertheless, the facility was designed to mitigate accidents, and the acid followed the drainage system into a nearby dirt pit. Souba said the contaminated dirt was dug up and placed on large plastic sheets. It will eventually be neutralized and buried in a landfill.

Since the clean-up contractor Clean Harbors Environmental was already on site working on the previous spill, Whitaker said they were able to mitigate and clean the spill right away.

"They were on site, which is great because this is what they do," Whitaker said. "It was addressed immediately. They were able to contain it right then."

Although the spill occurred outside, Souba said the chemical will not adversely affect the atmosphere.

"It was probably good," Souba said. "The diffusion that happens from something like this in the atmosphere is insignificant in the overall scheme of air pollution."

Souba said the city had actually attempted not to use the portable totes after the initial acid spill prevented regular tank use. The city rented a 5,000-gallon tank, Souba said, but the crews pumping out the acid needed it. Still, Souba said the tank should be emptied of acid and ready for city use within a week.

"We'll be able to take bulk delivery, which is far safer and more efficient than the chemical totes," Souba said.

Souba said a few weeks before the initial acid spill that the city had approved installation of a system that uses liquid carbon dioxide gas in place of acid.

The initial plan was to install this device by December; however, Souba said the city may speed up the process.

"Liquid CO2 is far less hazardous than hydrochloric acid," Souba said.

The water treatment facility is still recovering from the initial acid spill, and the city is in the process of assessing damage and cost.


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