Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) has closed a sulphuric acid leak at its Wellington plant and expects to resume full operations shortly, after 300 people were evacuated during the incident.
On the morning of 4 January the chemical plant in Wellington experienced a leak in a pipe from a storage tank of highly concentrated sulphuric acid. Police and fire units were dispatched to cordon off the area and direct traffic. According to a statement by the Drakenstein Municipality, 306 people within a three kilometre radius of the RDM facility were evacuated and a two-month-old baby was admitted to Paarl Hospital as a precautionary measure.
All families who had to be evacuated from the nearby farms returned home safely.
RDM in a statement said that after inspection of the site by Management, the leak was closed on 5 January but the neutralisation process will take another couple of days, but will not cause any further concern to the operation or the adjacent farms around the facility.
“Damage to equipment of the factory is limited and will not influence production. Decontamination of the ground is scheduled to be performed immediately once the neutralising action has been finalised. At this stage, RDM does not foresee or anticipate any impact to the environment,” the company said.
As the leak could not be closed off immediately due to the danger involved, RDM said it was decided to let the tank drain on its own in a controlled manner, while containing the outflow acid in trenches around the tank farm. “In this way, RDM was able to control the flow. The acid was neutralised with lime, which was dumped on top of the acid into the trenches. When in contact with air, sulphuric acid forms a mist cloud. This was visibly suspended over the site yesterday during the day. Thanks to low wind speeds, the mist had time to evaporate and dissolve over the plant. The situation was safe by late evening.”
RDM said that the entire operation was supervised by its on-site Chemical Engineer to ensure safe-handling of the acid spill. “RDM trains special staff for such occurrences to prevent damage to the environment and harm to any person. In the chemical industry, it is of utmost importance to be prepared for such operational mishaps which may occur at any time. We do the utmost to avoid such cases and to ensure safe and controlled operations of our plants,” RDM said.