Distillery for top whiskies closed after major spill of nitric acid

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A DISTILLERY which makes some of the world’s most famous whisky brands had to be evacuated and shut following a huge chemical spill.

Firefighters were called to Diageo’s Cameronbridge Distillery in Levenmouth, Fife, after thousands of litres of nitric acid spilled from a container.

Some of the acid mixed with water, releasing dangerous gases into an outer safety tank called a bund.

The plant creates the grain spirit used in brands such as Johnnie Walker, J&B, Bell’s, Black and White, Haig and White Horse. It also makes the grain-neutral spirit for Archers, Pimm’s, Smirnoff, Tanqueray and Gordon’s Gin.

Officials said thousands of litres of 60 per cent nitric acid solution leaked from a 28,000 litre container.

Crews were called to the distillery at about 5:30am to begin investigating the source of the leak and look for a stop valve.

About ten or 15 employees were evacuated from the site and nearby residents were informed of the incident.

Articulated lorries lined up next to the plant entrance, unable to make their deliveries, while company workers waited at the site gates. Ambulance crews went to the scene but there were no casualties.

Public health professionals were also called in to assess if the spillage could affect nearby Cameron Hospital.

Jim McCowen, site manager, said: “One of the process tanks has sprung a leak and it’s collected in the bund.

“Because the bund had a small amount of water in it, the acid has reacted and released a gas.

“It’s been contained in that tank, but until the specialist contractor gets here, the fire service is here to monitor the situation.”

Mr McCowen added: “We have been very conscientious in informing our neighbours, as we always are, but it’s purely procedural.”

Fife Fire and Rescue said later its crews had withdrawn to a safe distance after finding the stop valve.

A specialist recovery vehicle was sent from Glasgow to remove the escaped nitric acid.

A Diageo spokesman said: “There has been a chemical leak at our site in Cameronbridge, Fife, this morning caused by a leak in a process storage tank.

“The emergency services were immediately notified and arrived on site at 5:30am.

“No-one has been injured and the spillage is being contained safely, with no environmental impact.

“As a precaution, all employees and contractors on site have been evacuated and as a safety measure residents in the immediate vicinity have been advised to keep their windows and doors closed. The plant has been safely shut down while emergency services monitor the situation.

“A specialist contractor is on their way to support the remedy and recovery programme.”

Diageo later said that the leak had been stopped and that it was working closely with emergency services to resolve the issue.

The spokesman said: “We are now entering the clean-up phase to safely remove the chemical spillage, estimated at 10,000 litres, which is an acid-based cleaning product widely used in the food and beverage industries.”

Nitric acid is a colourless, corrosive liquid which can cause severe burns.

At room temperature it gives off red or yellow fumes and it reacts with most metals.