MadSci Network: Environment/Ecology

Re: What would be the effects of a tanker spill of Hydrochloric acid in a river

Area: Environment/Ecology
Posted By: Samuel Conway, Senior Staff Chemist, Avid Therapeutics,Philadelphia, PA
Date: Mon Feb 10 21:17:47 1997
Message ID: 853842436.En

The "steam" was not steam, but rather hydrogen chloride vapors.  You see
the same thing when you add concentrated hydrochloric acid vapors to a 
beaker of water. The water gets warmed by the dissolution of the acid
, and some of the gaseous acid is driven off.  

In the immediate area, all living beings would be in danger.  Because of
the vapors, an evacuation of nearby residents would be in order.  Fish
and other wildlife who were close to the accident would be killed rather
quickly.  Plant life along the shoreline would die.

As the acid dispersed down the river, it would become more and more 
dilute, and its effects would become less and less.  This would happen 
whether there were a hydroelectric dam there or not.

The only way to clean this up would be to neutralize the acid.  This would
likely be done with limestone (calcium carbonate).  In fact, any limestone
or other carbonate that the acidic river comes into contact with will be
dissolved, and will help to reduce the acid level.

The chances are that you could not get a neutralizing agent there fast
enough before the current carried the acid downriver and began to dilute
it.  The best you could do would be to dump a large amount of limestone
into the river downstream and try to neutralize as much of the acid as
possible, and then let nature diffuse it on its own.

You then throw the tanker captain in jail for negligence.

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