Nitric Acid Explosion Rocks Indianapolis Rolls Royce Plant

Nitric Acid

An chemical spill and subsequent explosion on Friday afternoon at an Indianapolis Rolls Royce plant has injured eight workers.  Another affected employee is being examined on site.  The explosion happened at approximately 1:30 p.m.  The incident occurred as nitric acid was being transferred out of a 250-gallon tank.  The explosion created a chemical cloud, which has since dissipated.  The plant was evacuated after the explosion.

Nitric acid is a very strong, odorless acid that can inflict serious burns to the skin, eyes, gastrointestinal tract, and respiratory tract.  It is colorless, but can sometimes appear yellow.  Nitric acid is a corrosive substance and it can explode when it contacts other materials.  A person who inhales, swallows, or even comes in contact with the acid can suffer burns, injury, and possibly death.

The eight injured workers were transported to area hospitals to undergo treatment for exposure to acid.  All eight are reported to be in stable condition.
Captain Mike Pruitt of the Wayne Township Fire Department stated that although they do know that an explosion occurred, it was too early to tell how large or small it was.  They expect to gain more information from involved employees.

The explosion occurred at Plant 5 located on S. Tibbs Ave.  The incident is under control according to emergency workers on the scene, but they have requested the Marion County Health Department to assist on site.

A nitric acid explosion at the University of Maryland in 2011 injured two students who were in the immediate vicinity of the blast.  The two students were conducting an experiment using nitric and sulfuric acid.  Normally, those two acids would not react violently, but in this case, the combination of the two was poured into an organic waste container and then exploded.  It is believed that it was the addition of the materials that made up the container that caused the mixture of acids to explode violently.   The injured students suffered from first- and second-degree burns and multiple cuts.

In January of this year, nitric acid exploded and seriously injured one student of a German university.  The 24-year-old suffered cuts from flying glass and suffered a lung embolism due to the breathing in of the chemicals.  Fifteen other students were also hurt in the incident.  As in the UMD case in 2011, nitric and sulfuric acid had been combined.  The mixture exploded when an organic chemical was introduced.

When mixed with urea, nitric acid becomes a destructive explosion known as urea nitrate.  Improvised explosive devices containing urea nitrate are used by terrorists all over the world.  Perhaps the most well-known explosion caused by urea nitrate was the 1993 World Trade Center bombings.  The most common source of urea for bomb-making has historically been from fertilizer, which contains urea due to the nitrogen it contains.  Although the 1993 World Trade Center bombing failed to attain its goal of destroying both towers and killing tens of thousands of people, it did kill six people and caused injuries to more than one thousand.

By Jennifer Pfalz

Fox 59
Indy Star
Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department
The Local