A CHEMICAL spill at an industrial complex in the centre of the city sparked a major scare, with workplace evacuations and a shutdown of traffic routes and businesses in Tamworth yesterday.
Police and emergency services were called to the Grain Products Australia factory site, on the corner of Marius and White streets in the CBD, just after 1pm yesterday.
As hazmat teams and fire brigades converged on the White St entrance to the big building complex, police and council workers moved in and closed Marius St, between Brisbane and Hill streets, for up to two hours.
Workers from the factory were evacuated as NSW Fire Brigade and hazmat crews worked to contain the leak, which a NSW Fire Brigade firefighter said was hydrogen chloride gas.
The gas can turn into hydrochloric acid when it’s exposed to water.
The White St area near Marius St was closed to incoming traffic.
All of the traffic exiting the City Plaza car park was directed to Peel St.
Pedestrians were also sent away from the area. While the roads were reopened by 4pm, the immediate site near the leak in White St was still cordoned off at 6pm yesterday.
Station officer Phil Cox, of the main Tamworth Fire Station in Carthage St, said emergency services received a call via Triple 0 about 12.30pm and firefighters had discovered a small leak from a hydrogen chloride tank, which was located within a bunkered (or contained) area.
As of yesterday afternoon, everything was back to normal operation but firefighters remained there until early evening, pumping out the bunkered area.
They also treated the leak with soda ash, a neutralising agent for acid.
He said no one was injured, but as a precaution they evacuated the building, as well as businesses on the corners of Marius and White streets, although other shops and business outlets were told to close windows and doors and remain inside until the all-clear was given.
One manager of a neighbouring business praised the way emergency services responded and dealt with the scare.
“They’ve been great. They’ve kept us informed, they’ve told us what they knew and what we should do,” he said in the midst of the alarm.
“We informed our customers they should collect their things and our staff of four here are just waiting inside for the all-clear. We were also told that if the wind changes we might be told to leave and that we should do that immediately and just go.”
Hydrogen chloride (hydrochloric acid) is highly corrosive and skin contact can cause redness, pain and severe burns.
Inhaling its fumes can cause coughing, choking, inflammation of the nose, throat and upper respiratory tract, and can cause serious lung conditions and even death in severe cases.
Grain Products Australia is a multi-million dollar industrial producer of wheat-based food ingredients and was formed in 2009 with a management buyout of the former Penford wheat starch plant.
It has been a Tamworth landmark since 1938 and famous formerly as a Fielders flour mill.
The company was the first in the world to commercially dry vital wheat gluten and today produces wheaten cornflour, as well as wheat starches and caramel used in the manufacture of breads, noodles, breakfast cereals, jelly confectionery, beer and popular spreads and sauces.