21st November 1999

Fire service cleans up corrosive spill at the power station

It was pure luck that the Fire Service was on site at Jersey’s La Collette Power Station when a leak broke out. It was coming to the end of a search and rescue exercise when a member of the power station staff approached a Fire Service officer to explain that concentrated hydrochloric acid was leaking from an 18.5 tonne tank.

Hydrochloric acid can be very harmful, causing severe burns if it comes into contact with the skin and corroding metals to give off explosive gas. This might have sounded like an additional simulated peril for the search and rescue exercise but it was, in fact, really happening, and, at the same time, a second container within the same room as the leaking hydrochloric acid tanks was leaking caustic soda.

By the time fire crews had donned protective clothing and entered the room housing the tanks, the level of the acid had risen so far that the tanks’ broken valves were already submerged. Everyone in the power station, aside from the staff in the control room, was evacuated.

Pumps destroyed by acid

Crews lowered a pair of pumps into the acid in an attempt to pump it back into a third, empty tank, but the first pump was broken and the second soon succumbed when the acid started eating it away. A further six pumps were rendered inoperable before an acid resistant pump was flown in from Switzerland.

Then the acid started to eat through the chemical protection suits being worn by the crews.

It took until Sunday afternoon to recover all of the spilled acid, with Jersey Fire Service having called on assistance from crews that flew over from Hampshire. In total, 100 firefighters were involved in the operation to recapture the spilled corrosive liquid over the course of 96 hours – a total of 1,200 working days. Additional firefighters and replacement protective clothing were sent across and, with the acid now safely contained, an extensive decontamination operation could get underway. It wasn’t until 23rd November, when the operation was into its fifth day, that it could finally be signed off.


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