ACID CLOUD - 10 hospitalised as gas leak shuts Norco
By SAMANTHA TURNBULL
ELECTRICIAN Mark Williams was one of 10 workers rushed to hospital yesterday after a potentially lethal cloud of acid vapour swept through Norco's Lismore ice-cream factory.
The Goonellabah man was released from the Lismore Base Hospital about 11am, five hours after the cleaning agent Divosheen nitric acid leaked through a broken pipe into the plant's air ventilation system.
Mr Williams said he had inhaled some of the hazardous fumes.
"I've got a bit of a sore throat and sore eyes," he said.
"But we're all OK, the doctor checked us out."
Norco chief executive officer, Murray Richardson, said all 10 employees were declared fit enough to return to work the same day.
He said after receiving medical advice, he saw no need for the employees' health to be monitored in the future.
Mr Richardson also said the company would not be making any changes to its maintenance operations in light of the damaged pipe.
"It was a small hole and it was just a normal case of wear and tear," he said.
"We have corrected it and it has never happened before."
About 80 workers from the factory's maintenance and production departments were evacuated when supervisors noticed the cloud begin to form inside the building.
Ice-cream packer Lorna Johnson, of Casino, said she immediately held her breath and ran outside.
"I was scared. When you're dealing with deadly chemicals there's always a chance something like this can happen," she said.
"It was hard to breathe and it smelt like acid."
Fellow packer Andrew Clapham, of Ballina, said the leak started in the dry-mix room of the factory where the ice- cream ingredients were kept.
"We were going through that area to pick up some buckets and we knew it wasn't safe," he said.
"We got out of there pretty quick."
Jo Harrison, of Lismore, said a thick fog blanketed the area.
"I could hear a hissing sound and then I could smell a dry smell like acid," she said.
"It was thick and foggy, but thicker in the dry-mix room."
NSW fire brigade crews from Goonellabah, Lismore and the Goonellabah Hazmat unit were called to the spill about 6am.
Superintendent Geoff Barnes said the leaking acid was a corrosive liquid routinely flushed through the factory's pipes to remove calcium build-up.
Firefighters were sent into the affected area of the building in protective full body suits to pump the pipes with water and wash down the walls.
"The pipes had sprayed out the chemicals as a mist," said Supt Barnes.
"It had actually taken the paint off the walls."
The acid was removed from the building by midday so NORCO engineers could repair the pipe.