Huge Fluoride Spill in Pittsburgh

National Response Center - Emergency Response Data

Source: Fluoridation News

September 17, 1996

An 8,000 gallon capacity storage tank at the City of Pittsburgh water treatment plant split open on Saturday, September 14, pouring at least 5,000 gallons of hydrofluorosilicic acid into the Allegheny River. The tank had a weak seam in it. Officials are investigating purchase records to determine who was the manufacturer of the tank. One water treatment employee was overcome by fumes and taken to St. Margaret Memorial Hospital. The leak was discovered at 11:30 a.m. It took about 11 hours to transfer the rest of the hydrofluorosilicic acid to another storage tank. The fumes dissipated quickly because of windy weather. The Coast Guard issued a chemical spill advisory on the Allegheny River. Boating and all river traffic was halted. The advisory warning was lifted late Saturday afternoon after the Allegheny County Health Department reported tests showing that acidity of the river water was below hazardous levels. The Coast Guard will make a formal request for an explanation of how the accident happened and what can be done to prevent this kind of accident in the future. Gregory Tutsock, acting executive director of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewage Authority, speaking of how serious this might be, said, "... what we'd end up with is fish with strong teeth." This information was reported in the Valley News Dispatch and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The News Record reported that the leak was discovered at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday. The Tribune-Review reported that 7,000 gallons of a 23 percent solution of hydrofluorosilicic acid leaked from the tank through a drain into the river. The Department of Environmental Protection was notified just before noon. A cleanup company drained the rest of the acid from the tank.

The spill was reported in the Derry Journal in Northern Ireland. Pure water campaigners pointed out that this is but one of many instances which show that fluoridation is not completely safe. Terry Moore, representing the National Pure Water Association's Derry Branch, said that the way officials downplay accidents like this is a "creative approach to fluoride public relations." Twenty-five of the twenty-six district councils and all four of the health councils in the North part of Northern Ireland oppose a new fluoridation plan.

A spokesperson for PA Mandatory Fluoridation Alert said that this is the kind of accident that they said could never happen and it shows that fluoridation is unsafe. See the related story, Pennsylvania Legislature Considers Statewide Mandatory Fluoridation Law.

Hydrofluorosilicic acid is also known as fluorosilicic acid or fluosilicic acid. It comes as a liquid and so it is easier to add to water than crystalline sodium fluoride and fluorosilicate. All of these chemicals are derived from pollution scrubbing operations. A common source is the processing of phosphate rock to make phosphate fertilizers. The rock also contains fluoride, silica and traces of heavy metals such as uranium, radium, radon and lead. When the phosphate rock is treated with sulfuric acid, silicon tetrafluoride and hydrogen fluoride gases are given off. These gases pass through scrubbers and react with water to form hydrofluosilicic acid (H.F. Denziger, H.J. Konig and G.E.W. Kruger, "Fluorine Recovery in the Fertilizer Industry: A Review," Phosphorous and Potassium #103, Sept/Oct, 1979, pp.33-39).

Source: News Library

Published on September 15, 1996, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)


A chemical spill into the Allegheny River yesterday attracted numerous emergency officials, but they said it was not hazardous. About 600 gallons of hydrofluorosilicic acid leaked from a storage tank at the city's water-treatment plant near Aspinwall. The leak was discovered about 11:30 a.m. and was contained, but not stopped, a few hours later. Crews from the state Department of Environmental Protection set up containment buoys around the site while workers from the city emergency-services and wa

Complete Article, 222 words

Published on September 16, 1996, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)


The Coast Guard has lifted a chemical spill advisory on the Allegheny River after an acid leak in a tank at the city's water treatment plant was stopped. Roughly 5,000 gallons of hydrofluorosilicic acid, used to fluoridate drinking water, leaked from an 8,000 gallon tank into the river on Saturday. The acid leaked through a seam in the tank. Officials will check purchase records today to obtain the manufacturer's name and find out how the leak could have happened, said Greg Tutsock, acting executi

Complete Article, 268 words

Return to Fluoridated Chemical Accidents in PA
Return to Fluoridated Chemicals page
Return to Fluoridation page
Return to ACTION Center Homepage

Last modified: 6 September 2001