Fire crews responded to a chemical manufacturing plant west of Missoula on Wednesday morning after an open valve flooded a mixing tank and spilled roughly 5,000 gallons of water tainted with acid.
Crews with the Missoula Rural and Missoula City fire departments, and the Frenchtown Rural Fire District, responded shortly before 10 a.m. to Spectrum Products, located near Missoula International Airport at Butler Creek Road and Spectrum Lane.
“They’re estimating between 5,000 to 7,000 gallons of a very diluted product,” said Chris Newman, deputy chief with Missoula Rural Fire. “They’re going to check the PH to see what the concentrations are.”
Later, the Missoula City-County Health Department said the PH registered between 3 and 4, making it “moderately acidic.” Officials were still working to determine the spill’s concentration at day’s end.
Newman described the acids as sulfuric, phosphoric and citric. Hazmat crews donned Level B suits and air tanks before entering the facility as employees watched outside.
Spectrum’s parent company, Playcore, said a valve was left on Tuesday night, spilling water into a retention system. The water may have contacted chemicals held in the facility, the company said.
“As a precautionary measure, employees were immediately evacuated and we expect cleanup to be completed (Thursday) so that normal production can resume on Friday with minimal disruptions to our customers,” the company said.
The spill was discovered as employees arrived for work. They contained the spill to the building’s interior using a bentonite material, similar to cat litter, Newman said.
“They have those (acids) in containers in full concentrations,” Newman said. “They go into the mixing vat. There’s always residual in the vat. It was close to being empty when they were washing it out and accidentally left the valve open.”
Environmental health officers were on the scene, along with medical crews. Hazmat teams set up a decontamination site before crews entered the building.
“In higher concentrations, they (acids) can be dangerous,” Newman said. “It’s all dependent on the concentrations. Soda ash is mostly used to clean up these types of chemicals.”
Playcore produces sports, fitness and aquatic products, along with pigmented surface coverings. Spectrum, which operates under Playcore, produces pool products at its Missoula plant.
Dayspring Restoration will likely assist with the cleanup, according to one Missoula County official.