By Bridget Mananavire
A tanker carrying 30 000 litres of hazardous sulphuric acid overturned near Hwange National Park last week with the spill said to be drifting towards Inyantue River — a major water source for the local community.
A massive decontamination exercise has since ensued, with the authorities burning the midnight oil to ensure the dangerous chemical does not cause harm to humans and wildlife.
Reports indicate yesterday that the hazardous chemical has seeped hundreds of metres from the crash site, near Dete, and was now just 50 metres from reaching Inyantue River.
According to the Environmental Management Authority (Ema), gallons of sulphuric acid leaked onto the ground and into a ditch.
“The contamination happened on a dry bed and there was no water,” Ema provincial manager Chipo Mpofu-Zuze told the Daily News yesterday.
She said Ema was working to clear the area, conducting a massive soil rehabilitation exercise to minimise lasting environmental impact.
“We have guys who have gone there to check on the rehabilitation progress and what stage they are at,” Mpofu-Zuze said.
“The decontamination involves removing the contaminated soil, putting alkaline . . . What usually happens is that the assessment of the extent of damage usually happens after the rehabilitation, so we will be able to make assessment then.”
Within hours of the accident involving a Zambian-registered truck, diggers were brought in to excavate the contaminated soil and put it into a decontamination pit with a neutralising agent.
Reports say volunteers and technicians were also helping in the exercise.
The tanker was on its way to Zambia for delivery and the accident happened near Dete.
Officials had to off-load the gallons of sulphuric acid that did not leak from the tanker before moving the vehicle from the scene of the accident.
The driver of the truck and his assistant were injured, but rescued alive, according to reports.
Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) said they could not comment on the incident.
“The incident happened outside the national parks estate, we are not the best people to comment about it, Ema is dealing with the situation,” ZimParks spokesperson Tinashe Farawo said.
Sulphuric acid is flammable, water-resistant and very, very toxic.
It is also very dangerous to anybody who comes into contact with it.
The Hwange National Park, which is the largest in Zimbabwe occupying roughly 14 650 square kilometres, has in the past suffered cyanide poisoning, which killed hundreds of elephants on different occasions.
Exposure to the acid by humans and animals can affect the skin or the respiratory system, including the lungs.
The concentrated acid acts through its severe dehydrating action, whereas the diluted form is irritating due to its acid properties.
Inhalation of concentrated vapour can be extremely irritating to the upper respiratory tract and may cause serious lung damage.
Skin contact with concentrated acid may produce severe necrosis and frequent skin contact with dilute solutions may cause dermatitis.
Eye contact with concentrated sulphuric acid can cause severe damage, including glaucoma and cataracts, according to a science and engineering website.
Fine sprays of sulphuric acid can cause stinging and burning, but the effects are generally transient. Daily News