TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The red and blue lights from Hillsborough County first responders were shrouded by a green vapor cloud following an acid spill that temporarily shut down part of Interstate 4.
According to Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, a caller noticed the odd-looking cloud and called authorities, prompting a three-hour ordeal Thursday morning.
Fire Rescue spokesman Jim Schmidt said the vapor rose into the sky after hydrochloric acid spilled inside Florida Chemical Supply on East Chelsea Street and mixed with the damp morning air.
“[Hydrochloric acid] can be harmful to your skin,” Schmidt said. “[It can cause] eye irritation, respiratory system.”
Schmidt said the acid came from a container that held about 225 lbs. of the chemical, but he did not know how much leaked.
Florida Chemical Supply has not yet responded to requests for comment.
There were no injuries from the spill which prompted “a series of steps” from first responders.
“The first thing is isolation zones for the public to make sure they’re protected and they’re safe,” Schmidt said. “As well as trying to identify and mitigate the incident.”
A shelter-in-place order was part of that process but several residents who live in the neighborhood that is closest to the facility said they did not receive the warning.
As the sun came up, Amanda Jones reacted with her main concerns.
“The safety of my children, obviously,” Jones said while holding her son.
Jones said she was surprised she did not get the shelter-in-place order.
“I think they should’ve had someone out here either knocking on doors to let people know it’s safer to be inside,” Jones said.
Wayne Faison is one of several others who said they did not get the order.
“I didn’t receive any notice,” Faison said. “[8 on Your Side] coming to my door just now is the first recollection I have about any of it.”
Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Marco Villarreal said deputies were told to stay in their vehicles with their windows up due to the fumes. Villarreal said officers used their patrol car sound devices to alert residents to stay inside their homes.
According to Villarreal, the county also sent out the order with the county reverse 911 system, but he acknowledged that works with landlines only, unless cell phones are registered with the county.
Villarreal said a link allows residents to add their cell phone numbers to get alerts from the Hillsborough County Emergency Management Alert System.
Schmidt said the incident caused traffic issues as vehicles were re-routed, but he noted that it would have been much worse if it happened during the day.
“When there’s less people around, there’s less people traveling on the roadway,” Schmidt said. “That makes it safer.”
Schmidt said while any toxic spill can be dangerous this one was contained after it was reported by an alert passerby who saw the ominous cloud and smelled the fumes.
Schmidt also credited Tampa Chemical Supply personnel for helping control the situation.
“It was within the storage facility. The representatives responded.” Schmidt said. “They worked with fire rescue to mitigate the incident, contain the leak, and neutralize the spill.”