Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Port of Olympia IDs Chemical Spill Cause

By Mark Edward Nero

A hydrogen peroxide spill that caused a temporary evacuation at the Port of Olympia the morning of Jan. 27 was caused by a ball valve that ruptured after a buildup of the chemical, according to the port’s environmental programs director.

The spill occurred at a new stormwater treatment plant that had just opened at the port about a month prior. The leak originated from a pipe entering a 3,300-gallon tank. It contained a ball valve that, because it was unvented, released 9,600 gallons of hydrogen peroxide, environmental programs director Alex Smith told the Olympia Port Commission during its June 22 meeting.

Hydrogen peroxide, which is used to bring the pH factor in stormwater to normal, entered storm drains in and around the port and caused a vapor to rise from the drains and a building, according to the state Department of Ecology.

This led the Olympia Fire Department to evacuate a quarter-mile area as a precaution, and the port and a few nearby businesses were evacuated for about three hours and another six-to-eight businesses within 20 city blocks were sheltered in place during the incident.

Hydrogen peroxide is a weak acid that is potentially explosive and not suitable for ingestion in high concentrations due to the potential for causing irritation to the mucus membrane, eyes and skin. No injuries were reported as a result of the incident however.

The port plans to build a large containment area in the event of another spill and on June 22 approved an engineering and design contract with a Texas-based contractor.