Chemical Response

Sodium explosion, Birmingham

The challenge

Fire crews were called after a blaze broke out at a residential garage in Birmingham on 14th November 2019 where more than 30 containers of sodium were discovered. Sodium reacts with water and as the roof of the garage had been compromised, the rain caused a 200-litre barrel to explode, causing the fire. When fire crews arrived to extinguish the fire with water it sent a 30ft explosion into the air.

Adler and Allan were contacted by Birmingham City Council to attend the incident and identify the chemical and safely remove and dispose of it.

We arrived on site two hours after the call with multiple emergency services, the environment agency and Birmingham City Council.

The solution

Incident Commander Dave Boucher at the scene said: “We’ve had to get a specialist contractor in and keep a fire presence there. The road will be closed for the moment. They have removed the chemicals and are sweeping and cleaning and ensuring it is safe.”

Wearing the appropriate PPE and RPE we removed the tarpaulin to identify the substance and confirmed it was in fact sodium in multiple containers.

To be stored safely all the canisters should have been hermetically sealed. As the sodium reacted with water it created sodium hydroxide which began eating through the canisters causing multiple reactions.

We used a thermal imaging camera to monitor each drum and ensured they were liquid tight so they could be safely removed from the garage. We noticed that the temperature changed from 30 degrees to over 230 just by moving the sodium slightly, so it had to be handled with extreme care.

Where there were non-compliant drums we mobilised over drums and lose canisters were collected and placed in an oil filled drum to mitigate any further reactions.

We brought a curtain sided vehicle to the site in Birmingham and loaded the sodium to be transported to our Rainham waste transfer depot to be held and await next steps. Our in-house chemists monitored the load over weekend to ensure no further reactions.

The outcome

We sourced a shipping container to transport the material for onward disposal. We barriered off an area in Rainham to allow us to safely re-package the sodium into ADR compliant packaging with a lower explosive limit

We used air compelled breakers, gas monitors and thermal imaging cameras to cut the sodium up under oil to avoid reaction.

The sodium was then transported for incineration.

We provide a full turnkey response solution for chemicals and hazardous materials, responding quickly to the incident safely, advising on the chemicals involved with our in-house experts and removing and disposing of them compliantly. This means customers can deal with one supplier to manage their full chemical response.