Interesting calls - May 2012

Fire at a superglue packaging company

NCEC recently received a call from a HazMat Officer at a major fire at a superglue packaging company on an industrial estate. About 40 tonnes of cyanoacrylate adhesives and an unknown quantity of accelerator aerosols were alight. The Hazmat Officer wanted to know the hazards of the products and if water was the most appropriate firefighting medium.

Our Emergency Responder advised the HazMat Officer that cyanoacrylates are irritating to the eyes, respiratory system and skin, and produce toxic or irritant fumes in a fire, so breathing apparatus and fire kit should be worn. Our Emergency Responder also advised that the aerosols are extremely flammable and dangerous to the environment, so explosions were likely to occur and fire water should be contained. The Emergency Responder explained that foam was more effective than water for firefighting and that the thermal decomposition products posed a risk of pulmonary oedema for up to 48 hours after exposure.

NCEC's chemists have access to a range of hazardous material databases, including Chemdata®, and draw on their extensive chemical knowledge to provide advice within minutes of receiving a call.

Barn fire

NCEC recently received a call from a Fire Station Manager who was dealing with a barn fire late in the evening. The barn was constructed of asbestos and contained two tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertiliser. The Station Manager was concerned about the environmental impact of the fire water due to the ammonium nitrate fertiliser.

Our Emergency Responder advised the caller that ammonium nitrate is not toxic to the aquatic organisms, but caused eutrophication (an algal bloom that uses all of the oxygen in the water as if decomposes, causing fish and other aquatic organisms to die). When asked if ammonium nitrate was toxic in fire, the Emergency Responder explained that nitrogen oxides would be produced, which pose a risk of pulmonary oedema, and that firefighters should be monitored for 48 hours after exposure.

Our Emergency Responders are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to provide chemical advice to the emergency services, helping them to protect people, property, and the environment.

Sodium cyanide spillage

A 20 Litre spillage of sodium cyanide and m-nitrobenzene sulfonate had been placed in a bund containing an unknown acid from a previous spill. The site had been evacuated and no one was injured. The Fire Officer at the scene suspected that hydrogen cyanide would be produced, but wanted confirmation.

Our Emergency Responder confirmed that hydrogen cyanide would be produced by reaction of the acid with sodium cyanide and advised that the gas is highly toxic and flammable.  Our Emergency Responder explained that gas tight chemical protective suits and breathing apparatus should be worn, and that sodium carbonate could be used to neutralise the acid and prevent further production of hydrogen cyanide.

NCEC's Emergency Responders use their knowledge of chemical reactions to determine the hazardous products and, when practicable, how to quench a reaction and prevent further harm.