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Acid Spill at Long Island Lowe's Puts 7 in Hospital

Jun 18, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Yesterday afternoon, seven people were hospitalized after a muriatic acid spill took place at the Lowe's home improvement store in Medford, New York, according to officials.  The leak occurred at around 2:38 p.m. when employees were using a forklift to carry a wooden pallet with twelve cases of the muriatic acid, according to Joe Sauerwein.  Sauerwein is commissioner of Brookhaven Town's Department of Building and Fire Prevention.

The forks in the lift are supposed to slide beneath the pallet and raise the cases up.  Instead, in yesterday’s accident, one of the forks cut into the cardboard and damaged several plastic containers holding the substance, Sauerwein said.

Muriatic acid is also known as hydrogen chloride and is a “commercially produced substance that can be used for cleaning,” according to the Department of Health and Human Services.  Hydrochloric acid is the aqueous solution of hydrogen chloride gas (HCI).  Hydrochloric acid is widely used in industry and must be handled with appropriate safety precautions in place, as it is a highly corrosive and dangerous solution.  Exposure can cause chemical burns and asphyxiation in areas with inadequate ventilation.  Muriatic—or hydrochloric—acid is a substance used in pools.

Several customers reported having trouble breathing after the spill and early reports state two employees suffered burns and five other people at the store experienced respiratory problems.  Three people were taken to Stony Brook University Medical Center, while four other people were taken to Brookhaven Memorial Hospital; at least seven people were treated on the scene by medical personnel.  No names were released and the police report that no one suffered life-threatening injuries.  The store was roped off immediately after the spill, Lowe’s was evacuated, and the exposed acid containers were placed into a protective, 90-gallon drum.  Lowe's reopened after the clean up was completed, receiving the all clear to reopen about an hour later.

Hydrochloric acid is used in the production of a variety of organic compounds such as vinyl chloride for PVC plastic, MDI/TDI for polyurethane, and the production of gelatin and other ingredients in food and leather processing.  About 20 million metric tons of HCl gas are produced annually.

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