Results of acid spill in Hopewell still undetermined
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Feb 15, 2013, 15:02
photo by Caitlin Davis Members of the Crater Hazmat Team work to clean up the acid spill on Jan. 24. Three weeks later the results are still inconclusive as to what the substance was or where it had originated from.
HOPEWELL — Three weeks after a chemical spill shut down Route 10, local officials still don’t know the identity or contents of the truck that spilled its contents on the roadway.
On Jan. 24, the truck traveling through the city of Hopewell was reported by a motorist. After the Hopewell Fire Department and Emergency Management was called, the liquid was reported as being acidic.
Ben Ruppert, with Hopewell Emergency Management, presented the report of the incident at the Hopewell Community and Industry Panel on Monday night.
“I can only give you the information that we have been able to find out to this point,” Ruppert said.
The day of the spill, Ruppert said, Donny Hunter, battalion chief with the Hopewell Fire Department, arrived on scene and put down pH strips to test the acidity of the substance. The tests came back with a pH reading of 0 to 1, which translates to a substance being highly acidic.
In respect to pH levels, a pH of 7 is considered neutral and anything less than 7 is acidic and a pH level over 7 is considered basic. The lower the number, the higher the acidity of a chemical.
Ruppert said it was then that the decision was made to begin closing the lane of traffic around the spill as well as other roadways leading to the spill. This was to ensure another vehicle did not make contact with the substance and continue to carry it throughout the city.
Once the roadways were closed, Ruppert said the Crater Region Hazmat Team, comprised of Hopewell, Prince George, Colonial Heights, Fort Lee and Petersburg, began working to clean up the substance and run tests to analyze what was covering the roadways in the city. Roads were closed for a little over two hours that afternoon.
The spill occurred on Route 10, near the intersection of City Point Road, and continued into parts of Chesterfield County. At the time of the spill, Hunter said based on reports from Chesterfield County, the pH was more neutral and no cleanup was required.
The cleanup process for the substance proved difficult, Ruppert noted to the panel. Due to the temperature that afternoon and the nature of the substance, it evaporated quickly and froze quickly.
For the cleanup process, soda ash, provided by Honeywell, was used to get the liquid off the roadways to allow for safe travel. Soda ash, also know as sodium carbonate, is commonly used to clean the air or to soften water, and it can be fond in common household products such as detergents or paper products.
Because the truck was not able to be identified, Ruppert said this proved to be a challenge when trying to determine what the substance was. The day of the spill, the hazmat team was not able to say with absolutely certainty what the chemical was.
“It had a high percentage rate that it was aluminum sulfate,” Ruppert said of the findings of further testing. He said this chemical can be found in Hopewell by the Ashland plant. Ruppert said the material is a liquid alum. “It’s material that goes into drinking water processes to provide clarity to the water.”
While the chemical can be found in the city, he said this does not mean that is where the chemical originated from.
“It is an acid based but it’s not as strong of an acid as what we had found,” Ruppert said of the chemical. Regardless of the reports, safety of these trucks and the processes were still reviewed so as to prevent a similar incident.
“I did pay them [Ashland] a visit and did talk to them about the practices as far as their trucks and truck safety and closing and opening valves,” Ruppert said.
Ruppert said if similar incidents occur, there is nothing further that can be done if there is not a witness that can provide a positive identification on the truck.
“We’ve done the best we can as far as reaching out and seeing who it could possibly have been,” Ruppert said. “If it was indeed the liquid alum, it’s relatively, even though it’s an acid-based product, it’s relatively harmless. However in large quantities it can cause some irritation to the skin and to eyes.”