Acid leak forces thousands to evacuate

MELVINDALE, Mich. -A hydrochloric acid leak at a metal finishing plant yesterday forced the evacuation of 3,000 residents and schoolchildren, authorities said.

The acid leaked from a tank on the roof of Reilly Plating Co. created a cloud over the area, authorities said. The leak was contained in an open 500-gallon container beneath it, said Melvindale Fire Chief Scott Wellman.

Two schools in the two-square-mile evacuation zone were cleared as a precaution, said Wellman. Students were being taken to a nearby ice arena and college.

No injuries were reported.

Officials were worried the acid leak could become more of a problem if it rained. The forecast for the Detroit area called for possible thunderstorms in the afternoon.

Hydrochloric acid is a highly corrosive liquid that can cause burns if it comes into direct contact with skin or eyes. With rain, the chemical potentially can turn into gas and be breathed in, burning lung tissue and causing respiratory problems.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had a representative at the scene and was monitoring the air, said Karen Thompson, a spokeswoman for the agency’s office in Chicago.

“We have other people on standby if they’re needed,” Thompson said.

An environmental cleanup company was expected to pump the acid into a truck for removal, Wellman said. Once the chemical has been taken away, people would be returned to their homes and businesses, he said.

The plant provides metal finishing to the automotive industry and others. Phone calls to the plant went unanswered yesterday morning.

Melvindale is a city of 11,000 and is located 8 miles southwest of Detroit.