Disaster struck at a chemical plant in South Baltimore’s Fairfield industrial area Monday, September 18 as a cloud of toxic acid leaked into the air. Emergency officials took action immediately and warned both nearby workers and residents to take shelter for several hours.
The acid that leaked was a form of chlorosulfonic acid, which is a powerful and potentially lethal chemical used to make soap and detergents. Thankfully, the leak stopped after around 90 minutes and no injuries or fatalities were reported. The leak occurred while the acid was being unloaded from a tanker just before 11 a.m on Monday, said the Baltimore Fire Department. An undetermined amount had been released into the air.
The Maryland Department of The Environment has requested a report from the company, Solvay Industries, about the incident. The department also plans to send an inspector to the facility to determine the cause, and an investigation has begun to determine the cause of the leak. Solvay has stated that they will keep the public up-to-date about the investigation’s progress and what side-effects may occur from the leak.
“The investigation’s just starting,” Solvay spokesman David Klucsik said. “We have to wait until the investigation proceeds.”
The inspector from the Maryland Department of The Environment will be looking into the lasting effects of the acid on the area, and on those that were exposed to the chemical after it turned to gas when exposed to the air.
“The liquid material is considered hazardous for inhalation and produces a white cloud when it comes into contact with air, which was visible at the site on Fairfield Road,” Solvay said in a statement.
The acid, as a gas, is “very corrosive to the eyes, the skin, and the respiratory tract,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It causes a sore throat, coughing, a burning sensation, and difficulty breathing in those that inhale it. As a liquid, it can lead to severe burns if it touches skin.
Whether or not the incident would have been better contained if it had occurred inside the facility is uncertain. Among manufacturing facilities, around 70% have a compressed air system, and many also have an air filtration system. Either way, the fire department has deemed the area safe to return to.