may have harmed
No one was hurt by chlorine gasBy Gregg K. Kakesako
at a C. Brewer & Co. facility, but
a wildlife habitat might have been
and Harold Morse
State health officials today began assessing the environmental damage caused by a discharge of 3,900 gallons of sulfuric acid at a C. Brewer & Co. facility at Campbell Industrial Park, and believe the spill -- Hawaii's worst ever -- may have begun as early as Wednesday night.
"It is troubling that the spill wasn't detected and reported by the employees of C. Brewer," state Health Director Bruce Anderson said.
The spill was reported at 2:15 p.m. yesterday by workers at a downwind Chevron Oil facility after they smelled chemical odors.
Anderson described the spill site as being in "a very remote area" of Campbell Industrial Park and only used by the chemical and oil companies.
The road leading to the site has been closed and access restricted until "all materials have been neutralized," he said.
Anderson said there was no immediate danger of contamination to the state's drinking water system since none of the ground water there is used for drinking.
However, there is a concern for wildlife at a habitat Chevron maintains nearby.
Anderson said it was premature to say at this point whether C. Brewer violated any laws.
The sulfuric acid ran into a ditch containing chlorine bleach, combining to create clouds of chlorine gas. Favorable tradewinds blew the toxic gas out to sea, sparing nearby residents of having their Thanksgiving marred.
Fire Department and Navy hazardous materials teams worked past midnight to stop and neutralize the spill.
Fire Capt. Richard Soo emphasized that, with the favorable winds, there was no danger to the public and no injuries. Three C. Brewer employees were at the facility when initial reports were made, he said. Two later left while their supervisor remained.
Three tanks -- each containing 4,000 gallons of the acid at 98 percent concentration and hooked up so contents can flow between them -- contributed to the spill, which had slowed to about one gallon a minute hours after initial reports. There was no shutoff valve.
Anderson said the spill apparently was caused by a corroded pipe at the bottom of one of the tanks.
The chlorine bleach in the ditch came from another tank nearby. It was unclear whether that tank was also leaking or the bleach was in the ditch normally.
Four-man hazmat teams worked in 20-minute shifts, applying soda ash to neutralize the mixture of acid and bleach. Their vital signs were checked by emergency medical service personnel during rest periods.
As the operation continued, fire crews, with Chevron's permission, went to work cutting down a fence between Chevron and C. Brewer to facilitate applying the soda ash.
No public evacuation was ordered, but nearby streets were closed, and people were kept from nearby beaches in the area.
Soo said there were fishermen at Kaomi Beach who were asked to leave because of the fumes.
Soo said C. Brewer makes the sulfuric acid available to other chemical operations to clean tanks after contents are drained. The sulfuric acid is used as an industrial cleaning agent, he said.