Interesting calls - June 2011

Hazardous Mixture at Steel Company

NCEC recently received a call from a Fire Service Hazardous Materials and Environmental Protection Officer (HMEPO) who required first aid advice for 16 fire fighters who had come into contact with a mixture of hazardous chemicals whilst dealing with a fire at a steel company.

Our Emergency Responder advised the caller of the hazards of the products, namely that they were corrosive, toxic, and may cause sensitisation by skin contact. The Emergency Responder recommended that the fire fighters who had been contaminated remove any contaminated clothing and wash the affected areas with water for 30 minutes and then to seek medical advice. The fire fighters who had inhaled fumes from the fire were advised to seek medical advice and to be monitored for pulmonary oedema for 48 hours.

Immediate access to chemical-specific first aid advice helps to prevent serious injury to both emergency service personnel and members of the public; not only are short term risks identified but also the potential for longer term conditions.

Gas Cloud Hazard

NCEC recently received a call from a Fire Incident Commander who was en-route to a gas cloud release of an unconfirmed substance at a plastics manufacturing site. The area had been evacuated and water spray was being used to knock down the gas.

Our Emergency Responder established the correct identity of the gas (boron trifluoride, BF3) and advised the Incident Commander that it is a colourless gas that is denser than air; it is toxic and corrosive, will cause severe burns to the eyes and skin, and that it can react with water and alkalis. Our Emergency Responder recommended the use of gas tight chemical suits and confirmed the use of water spray to knock down the gas, stating that run-off should be retained and not released to the drains or the environment.

Immediate access to in-depth chemical knowledge means that the incident can be dealt with in a calm and informed manner with all the risks and environmental aspects considered.

Hydrogen Cyanide

NCEC recently received a call regarding the potential release of hydrogen cyanide following the accidental addition of sodium cyanide to a vat of zinc chloride solution. The area had been evacuated but the air extraction system was venting to the outside.

Our Emergency Responder ascertained the quantities of each chemical involved and advised the caller of the hazards of hydrogen cyanide, i.e. that it is a very toxic and flammable gas that is lighter than air, and recommended that no-one enter the building without the appropriate PPE and that the extraction system be switched off to contain the gas. Our Emergency Responder liaised with the company representative, the manufacturer's emergency contact, and the local Fire & Rescue Service. The site was evacuated and the gas levels monitored until the gas had dissipated and it was safe for the employees to return.

Immediate access to qualified chemists allows hazardous reaction products to be identified and the appropriate precautions taken. Our Emergency Responders liaise with the caller, product manufacturers and the emergency services to ensure that everyone has the information they need.