Quick thinking limits chemical spill danger

By Amy McGillivray of Bay of Plenty Times -
File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

Two men were injured during a large chemical spill at Mainfreight in Tauranga this week.

Firefighters from Mount Maunganui, Greerton and Tauranga were called to the spill at on Te Marie St about 8.50pm on Wednesday.

Two men were taken to Tauranga Hospital to be treated for minor chemical burns but were discharged later that night.

Tauranga City Council hazardous substances and new organisms technical specialist Jack Travis was also called to help.

A forklift driver was packing a truck for a night delivery when a piece of metal sticking up inside the truck pierced a 1000-litre plastic drum, called an IBC, which was full of caustic soda, also known as sodium hydroxide.

The forklift driver quickly backed down the ramp with the drum still on the forks and headed for the secondary containment unit, which another driver picked up and brought towards him.

The broken drum was then placed in the other container.

Mr Travis said about 100 litres of caustic soda spilled before it could be contained. About 200 litres of the substance remained in the original drum but the rest had spilt over into the secondary container.

"The whole container was punctured. A lot of it was saved by the forklift driver getting it around to that secondary containment really quickly," he said. "It was a good, helpful thing to do, otherwise it would have been all over the floor."

Mr Travis said some of the caustic soda splashed on to one man's leg and another got it on his arm.

"It's soapy. It will stick on you and it's hard to wash off."

The pair were decontaminated by the fire service before being taken to hospital by ambulance.

They were discharged the same night and one of the men was back at work yesterday, Mr Travis said.

The substance, called Rezolv, is made of about 45-50 per cent caustic soda, compared to Janola, which contains about 5 per cent, he said.

Mr Travis said the fire service used sand to clean up the spill and neutralised the rest with citric acid powder.

The contaminated sand and the remaining contents of the punctured drum were picked up yesterday and taken to be disposed of correctly.

Firefighters remained on the scene for more than three hours.

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