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Control measure

Containment: Corrosive materials

Control measure knowledge

There are four principal ways of dealing with spills/releases of corrosives:

  • Contain for recovery – ideally by a specialist waste disposal company or the owner of the material
  • Contain and absorb in some inert material – for example, earth, vermiculite or dry sand, prior to appropriate disposal
  • Contain and ‘neutralise’ – for example, with soda ash; this method does not work with alkali spills (see Control measure – Neutralise corrosive releases)
  • Dilute and disperse using copious quantities of water – this method is the last resort, and consultation with the environment agencies and the owner/operator must take place (see Control measure – Dilute corrosive releases)

In practice, any treatment of a spill of corrosive materials may require elements of all these tactics. The spill may be contained and recovered, residues may be absorbed and, if possible, neutralised before the last traces are diluted and dispersed. The key consideration when attempting to contain corrosive materials is the effect and/or reaction of the container's material with the corrosive.

Corrosive substances can react with many materials, such as cloth, paper and several metals. The decomposition often producing heat and gases, and in some cases extremely flammable hydrogen gas. Therefore, contact with other materials should be avoided where possible. Mixing different corrosive materials can result in violent reactions and may produce large volumes of gas.

Further guidance on containment methods and tactics can be found in The environmental protection handbook for the fire and rescue service and National Operational Guidance: Hazardous materials: Hazard – 'Uncontrolled release and/or spill of a hazardous material'.

Strategic actions

Fire and rescue services should:
  • Review the foreseeable storage, use and transportation of corrosives within their response area and make provision for suitable and sufficient containment equipment

  • Consider arrangements  with specialist waste disposal organisations who can contain and dispose of released corrosives on behalf of the owner/transporter

  • Have procedures in place to enable responders to safely contain a release of corrosive materials 

  • Ensure that responding personnel understand containment options for corrosive substances

Tactical actions

Incident commanders should:
  • Attempt to contain the spill or release of any corrosive substance as close to the source as possible

  • Stop or reduce the corrosive leak/release at, or as close as possible to, the source by plugging/ patching defective containers or valving down, decanting containment systems or damming drains.

  • Consider reducing vaporisation or gassing-off by covering or reducing the surface area of spills or absorbing spills with inert materials

  • Reduce the temperature of bulk containers, etc.

  • Consider the potential reaction between the corrosive material and containment material, which in some cases will produce heat and/or flammable/toxic gas

  • Prevent accidental mixing of different corrosive materials as this can lead to violent reactions which may give off large amounts of gas, some of which may be toxic and/or corrosive.

  • Consider containing/controlling corrosive vapours and gases in the open using water sprays and 'curtains', taking the need for containing water run-off into account, where appropriate