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  • Person in hazmat suit being decontaminated in Nevada desert.
  • People in yellow hazmat suits in Nevada desert.
  • People in hazmat suits in Nevada desert.

Sulfur trioxide, oleum and chlorosulfonic acid — the layperson may not know these names but sees them in the form of soap, toothpaste and dish detergent. Amy Blanton sees them as "high-value sulfur derivatives," a source of efficiency for industrial operations and building blocks in countless products. When misused, however, they’re the cause of workplace injuries she’s seen firsthand in her career.

“I never want to witness that again,” she wrote last year, recalling an experience at a past employer.

Safety and stewardship is critical to an operation using sulfuric acid and other sulfur-based products. They must be managed safely — one wrong move can have a profound effect on the environment and the people handling these substances. Knowing and sharing this information is how Amy Blanton and Mark Salzbrenner, product stewards for Veolia’s sulfur regeneration business, spend much of their time, and it’s why the company hosts a variety of training sessions on the safe handling of these products. One of these sessions is the tri-annual “Spill School” on Fuming Acids Spill Mitigation.

The class — held at the Department of Energy’s HazMat Spill Center in Nevada — trains the customers, transporters, first responders and other professionals who work with hazardous materials on the safety and mitigation techniques that can literally save lives in the event of a spill. Here’s some of what Amy, Mark and 20 other instructors cover during this weeklong workshop:

Personal Protective Equipment

A hazmat product steward knows exactly what personal protective equipment (PPE) to wear when handling fuming acid. Course participants review gloves, eyewear and headwear, and how to properly don, remove and decontaminate each when finished. This is one of four components involved in the 14-hour hands-on training portion of Spill School, according to Amy.

The White Cloud

Sulfuric acid isn't just dangerous in liquid form. This session, the only one worldwide to demonstrate live chemical spills, also confronts the “white cloud” that ensues when an acid spill occurs. Mark Salzbrenner, P.E. explains that Spill School students wear fresh air breathing masks in addition to Level A full-acid training suits when containing the substance to prevent inhalation of dense fumes that are equally toxic.

Spill Mitigation

Some safety protocols suggest water and sulfuric acid react violently to each other, but water can actually mitigate a spill when used correctly. This is what makes the seminar one of a kind. Using water spray, dry-chemicals and a new 6-molecule carbon foam (C6), acid handlers are trained in emergency responses that aren’t all addressed in the emergency response guidebook (ERG).

Spill school students range from fellow chemical manufacturers to members of the New York Fire Department, and they’ve raved to Amy and her fellow product stewards about the impression this real-life simulation had on them. Safety is indeed at the core of fuming acid handling, and it’s well reflected in this innovative class in the Southwest.

Veolia will be hosting the next Fuming Acid Spill Mitigation seminar in June 2019. Contact us for more information about attending, and learn more about how safety drives all of our environmental services here.

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