Acid spills at Dundalk port facility

Crews work to clean up more than 1,000 gallons of liquid after tank leaks

June 30, 2005|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

More than 1,000 gallons of concentrated sulfuric acid leaked out of a plastic tank at the Dundalk Marine Terminal yesterday in an accident that a state environmental official called serious but not a public threat.

Crews worked furiously yesterday afternoon to clean up the leak before rain could react with the 1,200 to 1,500 gallons of acid to produce dangerous heat and steam, said Richard McIntire, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

The liquid leaked through a crack in the new tank and into a containment area surrounded by a 4-foot-high wall designed to prevent spills, McIntire said.

Because the acid, which is three times stronger than the sulfuric acid in a car battery, would singe clothing and burn skin it came into contact with, "I would consider this fairly serious, but not a public hazard," McIntire said.

One cleanup worker had to be rinsed with water after coming into brief contact with the acid, McIntire said. No injuries were reported.

The acid was held in a plastic tank and is used to treat chemicals that leach into the Patapsco River surrounding the 570-acre terminal for cargo and cruise ships, said J. B. Hanson, a spokesman for the Maryland Port Authority, which operates the facility.

About 10:30 a.m., a worker detected the leak, Hanson said. It took place in an unused area of a berth on the easternmost end of the terminal, the spokesman said. He said leaks are rare at the facility, and there hadn't been one in at least a year.

The accident triggered a cleanup done by a private company and monitored by an emergency responder from the state environment department, McIntire said. Crews transferred the acid into another tank, McIntire said.

Although the terminal, which refused to allow visitors on site, said the operation had been completed by late afternoon, workers wearing brightly colored jackets could be seen - from a half-mile away on Sollers Point - still working at that time to clean up the leak.

By 8 p.m., McIntire said that the cleanup had ended. He said a state hazardous waste crew would visit today.

Sun photographer Karl Merton Ferron contributed to this article.

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