Local News

Normalcy Returns After Acid Spill Scare

Posted June 29, 2007 5:55 p.m. EDT
Updated June 29, 2007 6:51 p.m. EDT

— A day after an acid leak at a pharmaceutical plant prompted evacuations, state and federal inspectors were at the plant to determine the cause of the accident.

About 15,000 gallons of sulfuric acid poured Thursday from a rupture in an outdoor tank at Mallinckrodt Chemical, 8801 Capital Blvd., into a containment pool.

Special tanker trucks were brought in from Greensboro to handle the spill, but the clean-up effort lasted about 11 hours. In the meantime, the threat of rain prompted authorities to close two schools on Durant Road and a preschool and a gas station across Capital Boulevard from the Mallinckrodt plant entrance and to order residents of a nearby apartment complex to stay indoors.

Authorities feared that rain could react with the acid to produce toxic fumes.

"We've never had to evacuate the premises. They've never give us any alerts that we need to go somewhere. This is the first problem we've ever had," said the Rev. Dwight Barham of Neuse Baptist Church.

The church's preschool summer camp ended early Thursday because of the leak.

"We've never had a problem. They've been good neighbors," Barham said.

The Mallinckrodt plant has had no previous safety violations, but the company has been fined in other states, authorities said.

"They have a fairly good safety record, and they have a record of working with us before," Raleigh Fire Chief John McGrath said.

McGrath said the response to the leak was completely different than the response to a chemical fire in Apex last fall. Firefighters were hindered in that incident because they didn't know what chemicals were stored at a hazardous waste operation.

"(It was a) totally different scenario," he said. "We knew exactly the product we were dealing with. We knew its properties. We knew its hazards.

"As it turned out, it was a non-event."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state Department of Labor and the state Division of Waste Management joined Mallinckrodt crews Friday to determine what caused the leak.

"We are investigating this event thoroughly to identify a root cause, and this assessment will include a review our response effort to determine whether any changes or additional preventative measures are needed," Mallinckrodt spokeswoman JoAnna Schooler said in a statement.