SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The Savannah Fire Department, Savannah Chatham Metro Police and emergency medical personnel responded to a sulfuric acid spill on West Bay Street Sunday afternoon.
Savannah Fire Battalion Chief Elzie Kitchen said the department received a call about a Tidewater Transit Co., Inc. (TWT) truck leaking sulfuric acid on West Bay Street near Lissner Avenue. When fire crews arrived, SCMPD officers had already pulled the leaking commercial truck over.
Kitchen said firefighters loosened the lid on the tank to reduce the pressure inside to mitigate the situation, but some of the acid had already spilled onto the ground.
"We were able to contain that also," Kitchen said. "It was a little spill. It wasn't much. Even the area that we had pads on was probably a circumference of maybe 10 feet."
Kitchen said he isn't sure how much acid leaked out of the truck, but said the truck's tank can hold 4,000 pounds of liquid.
Sulfuric acid is colorless, oily liquid that's corrosive to metals and tissue, and "can result in adverse health effects from inhalation," according to the National Institutes of Health.
Kitchen said everyone in the area, including about 30 people in a nearby church, was asked to shelter in place while crews cleaned the spill, and one police officer was overcome by the fumes.
"If you come in contact with it, you can become overcome, lose your breath and [subsequently] pass out," Kitchen said. "So what we did was, for their safety, we had them shelter in place. By them being in that shelter, there should not be anything seeping in that building to hurt them. Had one officer that became overcome because he walked up to the vehicle. Had EMS to check him out. He's fine. I walked up to him. I talked to him after the EMS got through checking him out, and they said he was fine. He just, I guess he breathed in a little bit of the product, but he was fine, not enough to harm him."
Kitchen said fire crews have the ability to evacuate people in a situation like this should they need to, and said they would move people early on in the clean up.
Fire crews cleaned the spill in about 20 minutes, according to Kitchen, and wore protective hazmat gear to ensure they stayed safe.
"You look like little chickens actually," he said. "Have the orange feet and the yellow bodies, but those are protective suits for us for chemicals. They keep the chemicals form splashing on our skin, and we also put respiratory protection on. And one thing that we always do before we go to any incident is make sure we've got a way of cleaning the product off them in an emergency situation, and when they come out."
Kitchen said a third-party hazardous materials clean up company was called to remove the spilled acid from the ground.