Interesting calls - January 2012

Fire at a recycling site

NCEC recently received a call from a HazMat Officer who was dealing with a major fire at a recycling plant where refrigerators, compressed gas cylinders, fluorescent tubes, computers and batteries were processed. The caller required health and environmental impact information about the smoke plume and run-off water.

Our Emergency Responder advised the HazMat Officer that thermal decomposition products were likely to include carbon oxides, nitrogen oxides, halogen-containing compounds, heavy metals including mercury, chromium, lead, arsenic and phosphorus, and their oxides. Our Emergency Responder suggested that the run-off water should be retained where possible and emphasised the risk of pulmonary oedema following exposure to the combustion products, recommending that fire-fighters exposed to the smoke should be monitored for 48 hours.

Instant access to remote specialist advice allows you to concentrate on the job in hand, while our dedicated chemists collate the information and help you protect people, property and the environment.

Advice sought following an explosion

A fire-fighter contacted NCEC for advice on how to extinguish a drum of aluminium phosphide tablets that had exploded and released phosphine gas.

Our Emergency Responder explained that aluminium phosphide is water reactive and that phosphine is corrosive, very toxic and liable to spontaneous ignition. We recommended an exclusion zone of 100 metres in all directions, that neighbouring containers should be cooled with water spray to prevent further explosions, and that the Environment Agency and Health Protection Agency be notified of the incident. Our Emergency Responder suggested a controlled burn or to smother the fire with dry sand. The fire was brought under control with dry sand and CO2 extinguishers.

NCEC's Emergency Responders understand the dangers of hazardous materials and are able to determine the products of reaction, whether that is with fire-fighting media or other chemicals. You can rely on our experience and expertise.

School evacuated

A leak of concentrated sodium hypochlorite solution reacted with a split bag of sodium bisulfate in the plant room of a school swimming pool. The fire service had established a 50-metre cordon around the swimming pool.

Our Emergency Responder advised the HazMat Officer that sodium hypochlorite is a corrosive alkali and that solid sodium bisulfate is irritant and poses a risk of serious damage to eyes. In solution, sodium bisulfate is an acidic corrosive that can react with sodium hypochlorite to produce toxic and corrosive gases. Our Emergency Responder suggested that the school be evacuated due to the hazards posed by the reaction products and recommended the use of gas-tight chemical protective suits with breathing apparatus by fire service personnel. The spilled chemicals were collected and disposed of as hazardous waste, and the area ventilated before the school was reopened.

Incidents involving swimming pool chemicals are commonplace and often result from unsuitable storage of chemicals. NCEC's Emergency Responders are experienced in dealing with incidents of all sizes and work with the statutory bodies to protect the public.