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NSLS ESH Highlight #4a

Lessons Learned From Acid Spill At NSLS: Bottle ruptures in waste storage shed

Date: February 1, 1996 (Rev. 7/23/99)
Editor: W. Thomlinson, R. Casey

Proper control of chemicals and associated waste is an important issue at NSLS and BNL. Although the Light Source experience and practice is generally good, we occasionally experience problems that are unnecessary and could lead to personnel safety, environmental and regulatory concerns. We experienced a serious problem in 1996 that has a number of lessons that are still important to remember.

John Aloi is a member of the NSLS Safety staff and he has direct responsibility for managing the storage of chemicals and wastes at the NSLS. As part of that effort, he monitors storage conditions throughout the facility. In early January 1996, he found a brown glass bottle containing 0.5 gallons of liquid that was labeled only as "Used Nitric Acid". No information was available on the label as to the detailed contents, owner or age. That in itself is a serious violation of NSLS procedures, fully covered by NSLS training. He labeled the container as best he could and stored it in the waste storage shed.

At 10:30 am on January 19, it was discovered that the bottle had ruptured with enough force to scatter acid, glass and part of the secondary containment tray throughout most of the interior of the shed. NSLS and BNL ES&H staff were notified immediately. With the assistance of the Fire/Rescue, Industrial Hygiene, Grounds Maintenance and Hazardous Waste Management Groups, the spill was cleaned up and properly disposed of. NSLS ES&H personnel completed the job of neutralizing the acid and cleaning the collection shed so that it was back in operation on January 22. Due to the nature of the event and the serious violation in improperly labeling of the container, we never determined what was actually in the container.

You can easily imagine other more dangerous scenarios. The bottle could have ruptured on the experimental floor causing personnel injury, equipment damage and/or evacuation of the experimental floor. It could have ruptured in the hands of Mr. Aloi or subsequent personnel disposing of it from the storage shed. It could have ruptured in the shed when occupied by anyone storing or removing waste material. One-half gallon of violently splashing fuming acid is very dangerous. Due to these possibilities, the NSLS reported this event to DOE as an Off-Normal Occurrence.

The NSLS implemented changes in the way unknown materials are handled and examined and improved training to address these issues.

However, it is also clear that greater attention is needed by the waste generator if this type of problem is to be prevented. All waste that is generated by users must be handled as follows:

  1. Waste must be clearly labeled.
  2. Waste must be stored in a designated Satellite Accumulation Area during operations and removed to the 90 Day Waste Storage Shed when work is complete.
  3. All paperwork characterizing the waste must be completed by the generator and returned to John Aloi.

Please keep in mind that your safety and that of your co-workers depends on strict adherence to the NSLS regulations for storage, handling, labeling and disposal of any chemicals!!! Also keep in mind that we are subject to fines and penalties from New York State and the EPA in improper handling of hazardous wastes. Please do your part!