Toxic tanker fears

The Westmorland Gazette

23rd March 2005

A HIGHLY toxic chemical that is so strong it eats through road surfaces and solid steel is being transported through Eden each day in tankers, sparking fears that a relatively minor road accident could lead to widespread evacuations and possibly fatalities.

The UK Councils Against Fluoridation told the Messenger that Hexaflourosilicic Acid is being transported along the M6 through Lancashire and Cumbria and onto the A66 near Penrith bound for United Utilities’ water treatment works in Ennerdale and Cornhow, both in west Cumbria.

Joint chairman of the UKCAF, Professor John Whitelegg, said the highly corrosive substance was used in the flouridisation of drinking water, a process that aims to reduce tooth decay.

But Prof Whitelegg, who lectures at John Moore University in Liverpool and York University and is a specialist in the risks surrounding the transportation of dangerous chemicals, said the “inherent risk” of transporting tankers regularly carrying the lethal chemical along the busy M6 and winding A66 west of the motorway was not justified.

Fears have heightened among members of UKCAF and partners the National Pure Water Association, following an accident at junction 33 of the M6 near Lancaster on March 1, which saw 1,000 gallons of formaldehyde
solution spill onto the carriageway.

Two policemen and a fire fighter were rushed to hospital after being overcome by the fumes from the spill, which forced the 24-hour closure of the north-bound carriageway while the spill was dealt with.

Prof Whitelegg said it was “bonkers” that such a volatile chemical was being transported to water treatment plants when the alternatives to reducing tooth decay, such as better education among children, were much safer.

“Transporting this material is a real dereliction of duty,” he told the Messenger. “Cumbria’s roads are vertically challenged’ and no matter how safe the tankers are accidents still happen. This is really asking for trouble.”

George Glasser, of the National Pure Water Association, which is working alongside UKCAF in delivering leaflets to residents along the stretch of the A66 warning them of the potential dangers, said the liquid had the potential to kill if it was to leak from a tanker.

“It is one of the most poisonous acids in the world,” said the environmental writer, who has investigated spills involving the substance in the United States.

“Exposure to the skin and the subsequent chemical burn can lead to a heart attack within 24 hours if not treated properly and inhaling the fumes from it dissolves lung tissue.”

In a short statement, United Utilities said that the number of tankers carrying the acid to its site had not increased in recent years.

A spokesman said that all contractors they employed complied with strict legislation on the transportation of volatile and hazardous substances.

Cumbria Police spokesman Greg Stephenson added that officers were well briefed on how to deal with such spills and would use binoculars at first to ascertain the nature of the chemical before immediately descending onto the scene.

letters@kendal.newsquest.co.uk

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