Bleach freight spill highlights chemicals risk

Eco Friendly, Dishwashing Liquid, Anti-Bacterial Hand WashA recent spill from a 25,000 litre freight train containing the non-environmentally friendly liquid household bleach sodium hypochlorite forced the closure of a railway station north of Sydney. It highlighted the risk posed by the transportation of chemicals.

Emergency services were called to Morisset station north of Sydney after track workers noticed a liquid chemical leaking from a private freight train.

The spill from the tanker, carrying sodium hypochlorite, on November 19, 2011 caused delays for commuters and forced the station to shut down while emergency workers contained the leak.

Sodium hypochlorite is bleach found in common non-environmental cleaning products including laundry liquid and disinfectant. While considered safe to use in low concentrations, it is a strong oxidizer and can cause burns when in direct contact with skin or eyes.

When combined with organic chemicals including surfactants and fragrances found in non-eco-friendly liquid cleaning products it can react to produce chlorinated volatile organic compounds. If inhaled these vapours can be extremely toxic (which is why bleaching products should never be mixed with cleaning agents).

While the railway chemical spill was contained within hours, it raised concern about the safe transport and storage of chemical products, including eco-friendly industrial liquids.

Perth-based company Envirosafe Solutions has been an industry leader in developing clear hazard ratings designed to improve safe handling and transport of industrial liquids.

While its products are low-toxic and free of traditional harsh cleaning agents, director Murray Simon said it was important that hazard information was clearly displayed.

“We have had each of our products independently tested and labelled with health, environment, transportation and storage hazard ratings,” Mr Simon said.

“In addition we have recently taken the decision to include a Greywater and Septic Safe rating on our labels to make choosing the right product for your business even easier.

“It’s our belief that both traditional cleaning products and eco-friendly industrial liquids should carry clear, independent ratings so that operators know the risks involved in handling and storing these products.”

According to the Federal Government’s chemical accreditation guidelines released this year (RTC3705A) the risks posed by transport and storing chemicals include:

  • Potential risk to worker’s health during transport due to spillage, accident or poisoning;
  • Public health risk through possible cross-contamination of produce and damage to the environment through leakage and chemicals flowing into drains, water sources or horticultural land.

It is recommended workers handling chemical products familiarise themselves with Material Safety Data Sheets and take precautions against direct skin contact, inhalation of fumes and ingestion.

Chemical spills such as the freight train leak north of Sydney demonstrate the risks posed by the transportation of common products, including fertilisers, pesticides and other hazardous liquids. Contact Envirosafe Solutions for information on low-toxic cleaning products and industrial liquids by calling 1300 88 90 70 or email