An acid leakage accident from a 30 metric tonne tanker happened late night on 27 May 2020 near Chandni Chowk, Pune. The incident took place about 10 km away from the CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory (CSIR-NCL) campus. It created panic among the local residents and people working nearby as it caused breathing problems and irritation in the eyes. A team of CSIR-NCL scientists immediately swung into action and rushed to the spot after coordination with the Police Control Room.
The leakage chemical identified as acetic acid, has a boiling point of 118°C, is highly corrosive and toxic on inhalation, and its vapour can be flammable. A team of about twelve scientists and technical staff led by Prof. Ashwini Kumar Nangia, Director, CSIR-NCL, reached the site at around 11:30 pm with a truck loaded with several bags of Ammonium Bicarbonate (ABC) which was available at CSIR-NCL.
The team controlled the leaking vapours and the smell of acetic acid by throwing lumps of ABC powder on the surface of the leaking chemical and on all the sides of the transporting vehicle every 15 to 20 minutes for the next 5 hours. The difficult challenge was to make sure that the leaking acid from the tanker was periodically kept neutralised by adding base ABC.
At around 2 am, a team from the company and transport agency came to transfer the acetic acid to another tanker with the help of police and fire brigade people. The situation was stable and kept under control by the CSIR-NCL team present that continued to neutralise the acetic acid with ABC till all of the acetic acid from the leaking tanker was transferred to another vessel by early morning.
Prof. Ashwini Kumar Nangia said, “Had the spreading of acetic acid vapours continued till morning without neutralisation, the situation could have been very serious and hazardous for people in the neighbouring areas. We had several bags of ABC chemical, which is used for eco-friendly POP Ganesh idols immersion. This was a fortunate coincidence which came in handy readily.”
The CSIR-NCL team visited the site again next morning at 9:30 am and guided in the final clean-up of the accident site which was completed successfully by the fire brigade team and police.