Emergency response teams were in place until the early hours of the morning Tuesday after a nitric-acid leak was discovered at Aulick Chemical, located at 145 Eisenhower Court, near Industry Parkway in Nicholasville late Monday afternoon.
The leak happened around 5:30 p.m., according to Jessamine County Emergency Management Director John V. Carpenter.
The acid mixed with a concrete berm, which is designed to contain leaks, and resulted in a rust-colored gaseous plume into the air.
“We’ve got a 2,500-gallon tank of nitric acid that had eaten a hole on a fitting through the tank and it leaked out into a concrete berm,” Carpenter said Monday night. “The acid reacted with the concrete and caused a gaseous plume or cloud.”
Carpenter said the acid could cause respiratory problems, but because of the high winds, the plume was dissipating quickly, reducing the danger.
As a precaution, officials evacuated surrounding buildings in a three-quarter-mile radius following the leak’s discovery. Additionally, residents in the Tuscany Valley subdivision, located near Ashgrove Lane, were evacuated.
Those residents were allowed to return to their homes and the surrounding businesses are open Tuesday, Carpenter said.
Carpenter said Aulick had received a new shipment of acid Monday morning.
“It comes in a 66-percent concentrated (mix), and they were in the process of reducing it down to 33 percent,” Carpenter said. “They competed that and then they noticed the leak in the fitting.”
Carpenter said it was the first time that particular tank had been used and a fitting in the tank’s elbow was where the leak was located. Employees called Pecco Environmental when the leak was discovered.
The Nicholasville Fire Department was also called out to the scene, where firefighters sized up the situation before calling the Bluegrass Area Emergency Response Team.
“We called the Bluegrass Area Response Team, and they have responded with units from Winchester, Lexington, Versailles and Paint Lick,” Carpenter said. “They’re trained as HazMat techs, and they have the equipment to make entry.”
HazMat units used a vacuum truck to suck out the chemical from the building.
“They vacuumed all that they could get out,” Carpenter said. “Then we had some guys from the National Guard unit out of Louisville, and they’re chemical specialists, and they recommended diluting the remaining acid until they got the pH level up high enough to where there wouldn’t be any more acidity to it. They added, I think, about 1,000 gallons to what was left and vacuumed it out.”
Carpenter said officials are going to return to the site and surrounding neighborhoods around noon Tuesday to test the air quality.
He added that if the wind had been blowing in a different direction, the situation could have been much worse.
“If the wind had been blowing out of the north or the east, we would probably have had some effects of it around here, close to the buildings,” he said.