THE GREAT DEBATE
FEB. 20TH, 2017
Hello Fellow Hazmatters and welcome back to the Great Debate Part II (Find Part I here). The Great Debate in Hazmat is HazMat PPE selection of course. Does anyone else like the opening photo from the Ghostbusters movie?? I have always been a fan of Ghostbusters I and II. I thought the logo from Part II would make for a good icebreaker to open the blog. Part I covered some of the basic aspects of PPE selection. I also highlighted a scenario that showed all the varied aspects of PPE selection for responses. I hope you also took the quiz to test some basic knowledge. I tried to set the quiz up to make you aware of various standards and regulations that are focused on PPE selection.
What’s in store for Part II you ask? In Part II, I want to look at some actual responses and get into the reasoning the PPE choice was made. I have two responses to sulfuric acid to discuss. I will look at the different PPE choices for the two different responses to sulfuric acid. I want to compare these to highlight the rationale for the choices.
Let’s look at the two different responses to sulfuric acid. Sulfuric is a common industrial chemical typically found in batteries. It is a dark brown to colorless, oily, odorless liquid depending on concentration, purity and intended use. Sulfuric has a vapor pressure of .001 mmHg (Is a drager tube for sulfuric really necessary?). It can be found as a solid, solution or even in a fuming liquid state. Vapors are heavier than air. IDLH is listed at 15 mg\m3 or 4 PPM after converting. These are just a few of the chemical and physical properties to look at. I would always recommend a very thorough size up considering the response scenario, situation found, research on chemical, physical properties and many other factors. So lets consider 2 of these responses and the PPE choices.
The first comes from Phil Ambrose, Captain on a Type 1 HazMat Squad in California and founder of HazMatNation.com. He highlighted this call on the weekly roundtable(Episode 55)(every Tuesday at 915pm). I also interviewed him to get some more information. The response involved a leaking sulfuric acid tank that had let about 6000 gallons loose on their arrival. Containment only held so much, so they had to deal with a running spill as well as a leaking tank near a valve. The PPE choice made was to wear Level A. My first impression was to be a Monday morning quarterback. I asked myself, why would you ever need anything more than Level B and SCBA for the splash hazard sulfuric presents? It presents no significant vapor hazard so Level A would be excessive. TO Gear would probably not hold up well if splashed as sulfuric usually PH’s around 3 or 4. Level B is a really good choice except for extreme circumstances. It all made perfect sense after Phil explained what they were up against. He had said that in order to stop the leak, crews would be in close proximity to a large volume of the acid. There was a real danger of close contact with the product including stepping or falling in the pool of acid. The tech research person on scene felt the overall integrity of Level A would be a better choice due to the higher risk involved. He also told me that they came up with preventative measures (3 man entry, extra ladders for egress) and devised a rescue plan if a member did fall in to the product. The level A reduced the dexterity but increased the safety overall and the initial entries had strict plans as to prevent venturing into areas where rescue was more difficult The entire leak was a head scratcher from identifying where the leak was, and how to stop it.
The access was difficult and slipping would result in stepping in to knee deep product or falling completely in in some areas
Here is one consideration you may not put high on the priority list. What about your SCBA? The SCBA is exposed with Level B. In this scenario, the SCBA would possibly be exposed in close proximity to the sulfuric. I have seen pictures of SCBA that was severely damaged by nitric acid. The harnesses were permanently placed OOS as a result. The SCBA possibly being exposed needs to be a part of your PPE selection process. You may ask why not shut off a remote valve to stop the leak. This was not possible at this incident due to where the leak point was. As I mentioned earlier, there was also product overflowing the containment(usually designed to hold 80-90% of product in case of leak). The members containing the product that is overflowing were probably best served in Level B (I forgot to ask him this). These members were in minimal contact with the product taking defensive actions. I really like the thought process employed on this response. The situation was thoroughly sized up, the risk assessed and a good PPE choice was made. Close proximity to a large volume presented a higher risk level that called for a higher level of HazMat PPE than normally might be chosen. The incident was successfully mitigated without any injuries to members.
Now let’s compare with a second incident involving sulfuric acid. This one occurred in my home jurisdiction of Baltimore City. My immediate supervisor, Captain Rick Parker of Hazmat Operations had command of the incident. The incident happened at a chemical facility that we have an excellent relationship with. The facility is located next to our hazmat station. We host a joint open house every September with them. Members of the industrial community are invited to tour the facility and our station to gain a better idea of our capabilities and their business. There is usually a presentation or training of some sort relevant to the industrial members in attendance. On this particular incident, a 275 gallon tote of sulfuric was accidentally dropped during transition from a tractor trailer to the storage area. Unlucky for them, the tote fell on the containment wall and broke open outside of the containment area. Most of the contents spilled outside the containment system. The system captures loose product and stores it in a holding tank until pumped out as haz waste. Unfortunately, luck was not on the side of the facility on this day. A spill of almost 275 gallons of sulfuric had to be dealt with. Workers at the facility are well trained and know their response procedures. The spill was quickly assessed by plant personnel. Emergency actions immediately took place including notification of FD. Plant employees began by damming and diking the leak to prevent further spread. Given their knowledge of the chemicals they work with every day, personnel began the neutralization process of the acid. Captain Parker was on scene within minutes and began his size up of the situation. Hazmat companies were on scene within three minutes of dispatch. Captain Parker decided to allow the company to continue the clean up on their own accord. Our working relationship with this company gives us the confidence they can handle their own spill. What my captain did do was decide to provide a RIT team for them. Plant personnel wore CPC specific to their job(2 piece rubber PPE suit with hand, eye, head and foot protection). Now the question of what Level of PPE should our RIT team wear? Level B with SCBA was chosen as the PPE for our RIT personnel. What factors decided on this? The minimal vapor hazard in an outdoor environment was a large factor in this decision.What about possible direct contact with the product? Suppose a worker goes down and RIT is deployed. A person working on the edge may fall out and into the spill itself. Of course, the emergency decon line is ready. Members deployed on the RIT had a high probability of direct contact on the feet and hands to make a rescue. Appropriate hand and foot protection was essential for RIT personnel. Butyl gloves layered with nitrile medical gloves underneath was chosen for hand protection. Foot(and lower leg)protection was accomplished with chemical resistant Tingley boots(Yup those bright orange ones!!!). The lower leg area was also protected by a second layer of suit fabric. This is the portion that is outside the integral foot bootie and goes over the boot. I should not leave out suit fabrics and their compatibilities. Know your PPE and follow manufacturer recommendations. Dupont provides an excellent website to select appropriate PPE. Take a look at Dupont Safespec , it is an excellent tool to assist in selecting proper fabrics for responses. Our RIT team stood by until the danger to plant personnel was drastically reduced. The incident was brought to a close with no injuries and minimal environmental impact.
I have just described two separate incidents involving sulfuric acid. You can see some similarities as well as differences in how they were handled. The one major similarity I want to point out is the selection of PPE. Although two different choices were made, the process used to achieve these choices was similar for both incidents. Both incidents highlight the need for a good continuous size up based in science, knowledge and experience. Incident size up does not stop until we are putting equipment back on the wagon. We owe it to ourselves as hazmat responders to get better at our craft. Pick up a book by Bob Cosch, listen to a podcast by the Hazmat Guys or search hazmatnation.com for articles. The information being shared is everywhere. Above all, NEVER STOP LEARNING!!! The minute you stop learning is when you quickly become a dinosaur.
Once again I have gone longer than I thought i would. I will be back in a week or so with Part III of the Great Debate. The next blog will tackle a chemical that is ripe for debate and many differing HazMat PPE choices. One look at the risk assessment sheet tells you a debate is coming every time with AMMONIA!!!! Yes that’s right, i said AMMONIA!! I will highlight the chemical as well as present a scenario with PPE selection being the focus.
I would like to encourage everyone to leave comments at the bottom of this blog. We would like to know what you think. One of the reasons I write this blog is to try and open the lines of communication. Sharing your experiences benefits all of our readers. All feedback is welcome whether positive or negative. Constructive criticism can only serve to make us all better responders!!! I would also like to see everyone in person at the IAFC Hazmat Conference in June. Come to the class and share your experience with everyone in person. We will continue the “Great Debate in Hazmat” in person. Until the next debate, Be safe everyone and see you here soon!!!
About the Author
Kevin Ryan is a member of the Baltimore City FD Hazmat Operations. He has been involved in hazmat response for over 15 years and a fire service member for 25 years. He is currently the training coordinator for the BCFD Hazmat Team. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org