Interesting calls - September 2012

Ammonium nitrate fertiliser fire

A tyre fire on a lorry spread to the 29 tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertiliser it was carrying. NCEC received a call from a firefighter at the scene who wanted advice because the water used to fight the fire had entered the drains.

Our Emergency Responder advised the firefighter of the hazards of the product, namely that it is an oxidiser, which increases the risk of fire particularly when mixed with combustible materials such as fuel and oil. The Emergency Responder also told the firefighter that the fertiliser dissolved in the run-off water could make streams and rivers that it enters over-rich in nutrients (eutrophication). Eutrophication can cause an algal bloom to develop, which will use all of the oxygen dissolved in the water, asphyxiating fish and other aquatic wildlife. Our Emergency Responder recommended that the remaining run-off water was collected and advice sought from the Environment Agency.
NCEC works alongside the blue light services, Government agencies and industry partners to help resolve chemical incidents safely and quickly.

Wasteland incident

NCEC recently received a call from a fire and rescue service group manager who was assisting the police with an incident on wasteland near a housing estate. Youths had been seen mixing an unknown white crystalline powder with water and throwing it.
Our Emergency Responder assisted the fire and rescue service with the interpretation of the wet chemistry tests (solubility, pH, reactivity, etc) and the results from the detection identification and monitoring (DIM) equipment to conclude that the substance was sodium hydroxide. The Emergency Responder advised the group manager that sodium hydroxide is a corrosive alkali that can cause severe burns to eyes and skin, particularly when mixed with water. Our Emergency Responder recommended that decontamination of the youths involved was necessary to prevent serious injury. The powder was cleaned up and handed to the local council for disposal.
NCEC’s chemists draw on their extensive scientific knowledge to provide impartial advice to the emergency services helping them to protect people, property and the environment.

Overturned tanker

A tanker carrying 30,000 litres of aluminium sulfate solution overturned and was lying across all three lanes of a motorway, which had been closed in both directions. NCEC received a call from a fire and rescue service station manager who was dealing with the incident and said that the tanker had had a minor leak, but this had been brought under control quickly.   
Our Emergency Responder advised the station manager that aluminium sulfate solution is an irritant, but has low toxicity so breathing apparatus and fire kit were suitable when dealing with the leaked material. The station manager then went on to explain that the product would be decanted to another tanker, but was concerned because it appeared to be getting hot; the product is transported at 50°C, but the thermal imaging cameras had shown a slight increase in temperature. Our Emergency Responder confirmed that it was safe to begin the transfer process as the increase in pressure in the tanker would be small. The load was safely decanted and the vehicle recovered, allowing the motorway to be reopened.
Immediate access to chemical hazard information and highly trained specialists allows incidents to be closed more quickly, and reduces the risk to emergency personnel and the public.