Nitric acid leak blamed on truck's failed gasket

Wednesday, December 16, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

A leaking tank truck was blamed Tuesday for a plume of diluted nitric acid that spread from B.F. Goodrich Hilton Davis across neighboring homes.

Gary Auffart, an assistant Cincinnati fire chief, said an estimated 3,000 gallons of 95 percent concentrated nitric acid had been pumped from a tank at the Langdon Farm Road plant to the truck.

Firefighters said a gasket on the truck failed, but it was too early to say how much nitric acid escaped.

Assistant Chief Auffart said he knew of no one who was injured by the acid. The leak prompted a call for neighboring residents to stay indoors, and he was unsure whether any of the six fire division ambulance runs to the area were related to the fumes.

Safety Director Kent A. Ryan said the acid plume was almost a mile wide and 1 to 2 miles long, but it was too diluted to harm anyone.

Tom Eikhoff, B.F. Goodrich Hilton Davis regional manager for safety, health and environment, said the leak was discovered at approximately 11:55 p.m. Monday in the waste-containment area. He said the truck belonged to an environmental waste-disposal firm, Philip Services Inc.

Acid had been pumped to the truck so that the storage tank could be repaired, Mr. Eikhoff said, and the transfer was otherwise untroubled. Mr. Eikhoff said plant workers called him within minutes and by 12:08 a.m. Tuesday, the fire division was alerted.

Some of the liquid acid was caught in the containment area, and some vaporized and blew off-site.

Firefighters using foam neutralized the last of the vapors on the site by 5 a.m., Mr. Eikhoff said, and the plant was back in operation. Within an hour of the first alert, 14 emergency sirens were sounded in Hartwell, Avondale, North Avondale, Bond Hill, Pleasant Ridge, Reading, Elmwood Place, Norwood and Golf Manor.

It was the second time sirens have been used after a chemical spill in Hamilton County. After a spill at Hilton Davis in October 1997 (STORY), every siren in the county was activated -- drawing criticism for needlessly frightening residents who were otherwise unaffected by the leak.

Tuesday, only sirens within a one-mile radius of Hilton Davis were activated, said Don Maccarone, director of the Hamilton County Emergency Management Agency.

In the past year, Mr. Maccarone said, more sophisticated radio controls have been added and officials now can "pick and choose" which sirens to sound.

Mr. Maccarone supported the fire division's "informed judgment" to jar people with the howling sirens early Tuesday, "given the size of the plume."

No one knew how much nitric acid was escaping or how concentrated the vapor would be, Mr. Maccarone said, and it would have been too risky to wait.

Assistant Chief Auffart said sirens are used to alert residents to turn on a radio or TV.

Tuesday morning, broadcasters carried the fire division's message telling residents they were safest indoors. That order was lifted about 5:30 a.m.

Mr. Maccarone also used his Emergency Alert System, fax machine and telephones to reinforce the fire division message to TV and radio stations.

Whether broadcasters use the information is up to them, but Mr. Maccarone said it appeared stations with staff on duty put out the information.

Had the leak required neighbors to evacuate their homes, the assistant chief said, police officers and firefighters would have spread the message with loudspeakers.

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