NEWS-PRESS.com

Crew cleans up acid spill at plant


By DENES HUSTY III, dhusty@news-press.com



SPILL: Joby Starner with SWS Environmental First Response takes a sample from 200 gallons of sulfuric acid that overflowed at the Gulf Environmental Services plant on Corkscrew Road.
GARTH FRANCIS/The News-Press
Operators at an Estero water treatment plant Wednesday accidentally allowed about 200 gallons of sulfuric acid to spill from a tank they were filling.

No one was injured and no one had to evacuate homes in the nearby Stoneybrook residential and golf course development, said Bill Clemens, the paramedic administrator for the Estero Fire Department.

The agency was notified of the spill at 9:57 a.m. at the Gulf Environmental Services Plant on the south side of Corkscrew Road about a mile east of Interstate 75, Clemens said.

The accident happened when plant operators were transferring sulfuric acid from a bulk tank outside the plant into a smaller 500-gallon tank inside the building, said Robert Dick, a manager for the utility.

The operators got busy doing other things and about 200 gallons of sulfuric acid — used in the water treatment process — spilled out onto the floor and flowed out into the ground outside the building, Dick said.

No vapor — which could be harmful if inhaled — was formed by the spilled acid and there were no injuries, Dick said.

The spill was contained on the water plant property, the manager said.

“We made a mistake. Out of an abundance of caution, we called the fire department,” he said.

A crew from the SWS Environmental First Response company in North Fort Myers was called in to clean up the spill, Dick said.

He said any acid still lying around would be neutralized with baking soda.

The crew also will determine how far the acid may have leaked into the ground around the plant and neutralize the chemical if necessary, Dick said.

The entire cleanup “could take several days,” he said.

The state Department of Environmental Protection will monitor the cleanup, Dick said.

It is too early to tell whether the utility will be fined, said Lisa Douglass, local DEP spokeswoman.

“The utility has to make out a report of what happened. After that, we’ll take it from there,” she said.

If the utility isn’t fined, “an employee refresher course” in safety and plant operations may be in order, Douglass said.

This wasn’t the first such episode at the plant.

In 1999, a tank at the plant ruptured, causing more than 4,000 gallons of sulfuric acid to leak. Because of the leak, emergency crews evacuated more than 220 people in the neighborhood.

Pinewoods Elementary School was closed and workers blockaded Corkscrew Road. No one was injured.