Nearly 400 gallons of nitric acid seeped into the ground outside a florist’s greenhouse outside Salinas, CA, Wednesday, as the county HazMat Team jumped into action to assess the issue.

First responders received the call at 8:15 a.m. — more than an hour after the Green Valley Floral on-site foreman discovered the leak emanating from a new stainless steel tank, said Sho Shinhira, site manager. The lag in dispatch time resulted from 30 minutes on hold with Basic Chemical Solutions’ emergency line and an operator who was unsure if he should call 911, Shinhira said.

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Green Valley Floral contracts with Basic Chemical Solutions, under the parent company Univar USA Inc., for nitric acid supply and tank service, Shinhira said. The leaking tank ended up installed in September and replaced a hard plastic tank.

A representative of Univar did not return a call for comment.

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The Monterey County HazMat Team arrived on scene at 460 Old Stage Road just before 8:30 a.m., said Salinas fire Battalion Chief Herb Shoemaker. Composed of members of the Salinas and Seaside fire departments and the Monterey County Environmental Health Department, the team has training to work toward containing these types of hazardous materials.

Nitric acid is extremely caustic, Shoemaker said. It will eat through flesh and bone with liquid contact, cause rash- or sunburn-like injuries when vaporizing and tear through organs if swallowed.

“If you breathe it in, it’ll do the same thing to the inside of you as it’ll do to the outside,” he said.

Today’s leak dealt with not only liquid, but gas, as the leaking liquid vaporized in part upon impact with the ground.

Just after noon, two HazMat Team members suited up — a process involving a heavy suit and breathing apparatus inside another heavy-duty suit — and entered the “hot zone.” With two Univar workers, the pair helped pump out the remaining 30 gallons that hadn’t overwhelmed the containment unit.

Although the balance of the 350 gallons soaked into the ground, Shoemaker estimated that in several days the soil would no longer present a hazard.

“The soil will just be really rich with nutrients,” he said.

Representatives of the Monterey County Environmental Health Department did not return a call for comment. The Health Department, Shoemaker explained, is in charge of working with the owner on clean-up in the aftermath.

Univar workers completed containment, Shoemaker said at 4:30 p.m. The HazMat Team remained on scene monitoring the process before assisting the Univar workers through the decontamination unit.

The cause of the leak was a fitting below the tank, Shoemaker said. The acid then corroded surrounding systems and broke down nearby material leading to its leak from the containment unit.

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