100-gallon acid spill at Palo Alto manufacturer

No injuries or exposure reported, Fire Department says

As much as 100 gallons of hydrochloric acid spilled at Communications and Power Industries (CPI) Wednesday morning, Palo Alto Emegency Manager Barbara Cimino said late Thursday, tripling the originally estimated size of the spill.

Fire Marshal Dan Firth, who was not on the scene, said Thursday afternoon that more than 20 gallons spilled.

Cimino said 10 to 20 gallons spilled outside and 50 to 80 gallons were released within the building on Hansen Way.

No one was injured or exposed to the corrosive chemical and it was cleaned up by mid-afternoon, Cimino said.

Firth said CPI complied with the requirement to inform the Fire Department immediately.

The incident occurred around 9:15 a.m. when a hydrochloric acid supplier was filing a chemical storage tank, CPI spokeswoman Amanda Mogin said.

A gauge monitoring the amount of liquid in the tank malfunctioned, Mogin said. Employees noticed the tank was taking longer than usual to fill and cut-off the flow, averting a potentially larger spill, Mogin said.

About 10 gallons of hydrochloric acid, a usually clear chemical with an acrid odor, flowed out of the building through a vent, Firth said. Another 10 to 20 gallons pooled within the building, he said.

Firefighters arrived "very, very quickly" and cleaned up the outdoor spill within two hours, Mogin said.

Bicarbonate of soda, or baking soda, is used to neutralize the acid, which can then be vacuumed up, Firth said.

Mogin said CPI plans to replace the gauge and launch an investigation into the mishap.

Firth said the company has five days to submit a detailed report to the city. Any potential penalty will depend on information in that report.

All accidents do not result in fines, he said.

Cimino said the Fire Department is conducting an investigation.

CPI uses hydrochloric acid to clean materials used to manufacture vacuum electron devices, Mogin said.

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Like this comment
Posted by Bill Kelly
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 19, 2008 at 7:06 pm

CPI is gaining quite a history of poor chemical handling. They are the only large scale toxic chemical consumer left in Palo Alto, and one of the few in Santa Clara County that are within 50 feet of a residential neighborhood. My house backs up on their property and I found out about this spill 10 hours after it happened with a robo-call from the PAFD.

The residents should have been warned well before 10 hours.

Like this comment
Posted by Reine Flexer
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 19, 2008 at 11:46 pm

I am glad that the firefighters came right away to clean the spill.

This is not the first incident at CPI, and it may or may not have been reported if there had not been an outrage of the Barron Park residents after the previous leak in 2006 that had sent acid fumes into the air.
CPI needs to move its operation away from our neighborhood or any residential area.We don't need to be guinea pigs next to different very toxic materials. If you are not familiar with the problem, please see the website:

Web Link
Also, from
Web Link you can access all type of

Like this comment
Posted by JustSuggesting
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2008 at 12:17 am


Wow, very nice website - someone did a lot of (good & thorough) work.

Here's a suggestion that might help move CPI off its stance - those worst-case projections are always put in terms of the neighbors (general public). But what is often neglected (although obvious when you think about it), is if something goes haywire, CPI's employees will be harmed as well.

Perhaps CPI's President might have second thoughts about continuing to use cyanide if he realizes that it might be him going down for the count - and I'm certain his employees won't be very happy when they realize that as well!

Like this comment
Posted by Rhonda
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 20, 2008 at 2:30 am

Seems pretty minor. This is the same liquid my neighbor adds to his to swimming pool every week. At least CPI has a clean up plan. All pool owners should also have a plan in case of spills, but probably don't.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2008 at 5:50 am

I love you, Rhonda.

Like this comment
Posted by Frank
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 21, 2008 at 4:34 pm

Rhonda - I doubt your neighbor adds hydrochloric acid to his swimming pool! Ouch! And hydrochloric acid is not even the most dangerous material at CPI. From what I have learned, they have large amounts - hundreds of gallons - of sulphuric and nitric acids and cyanide compounds - any mixing of acids and cyanide liquids would generates hydrogen cyanide gas fumes. So there's no comparison of the risks of living near CPI to near a neighbor's swimming pool. CPI has so much of these very hazardous materials and chemicals that, in the case of a serious accident, great harm could happen to a large number of people, not just the immediate neighbors. You too could find yourself in harm's way. If you live in Barron Park (or work near CPI) you really ought to learn about the possible dire consequences.

Like this comment
Posted by Henry
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 21, 2008 at 10:23 pm

Maybe it is time to move?

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 22, 2008 at 7:19 am

Frank, I won't recite the list of common household, yard and pool chemicals that can combine hazardously, nor that the natural gas connected to every house can blow that house to kindling. Because of cautions learned through the years, we handle these materials in comparative safety. The rules for storing and using potentially hazardous materials are comprehensive and mandatory. Building and fire departments in this area have been at the forefront of developing new regs as new processes require them. You might occasionally smell a bad odor, but you won't get dead. On the other hand, if you make the plant move, they likely will not stop inside the US. They will do as so many other manufacturing plants have done when confronted with neighborhood opposition and go, with their jobs, to a country where they are allowed to operate.

Like this comment
Posted by Sue
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 22, 2008 at 7:49 am

Yes, CPI should move.
Manufacturing with toxic chemicals right next to a residential neighborhood (that was already established) goes against common sense.
Yes, CPI should move.

Like this comment
Posted by Myron
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 22, 2008 at 9:52 pm

They will paid the fine and keep right where they are. As long as their making money, they will not move.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 23, 2008 at 8:00 am

Sue and Myron, re-read my last and tell me where I am wrong. Or consider moving somewhere where there are no hazards, like???

Like this comment
Posted by Rush
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 24, 2008 at 1:38 pm

Walter - there's a reason why large hazardous material sites, like CPI, should not be near people's homes. That's why we don't have nuclear power plants in Palo Alto. CPI shouldn't have to move - they do neat stuff (did you catch the CBS 60 minutes program two weeks ago about the non-lethal ray' gun the military has developed?..that uses a CPI microwave power tube as the source of the rays! neat!) - just get the hazardous materials out of their site.. use smaller amounts of less hazardous materials or figure out how to make their devices another way. Use some good old Yankee ingenuity or California innovation.

Like this comment
Posted by Rhonda
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 3, 2008 at 3:54 pm

Thank You Walter! I'm glad you see the big picture. Our economy is falling apart. We live in the middle of Silicon Valley . A 50+ year old American company making American products right here makes me proud. Who has CPI ever injured? Every household is full of dangers. Read a label on anything under your sink. Again, at least CPI has a plan, do you? Snap out of it!!! - Rhonda.

1 person likes this
Posted by Tim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 3, 2008 at 5:07 pm

Do you have any idea how much Hazardous Materials roll through Palo Alto on the railroad? Tons and tons of "bad stuff". Are we suppose to close down or make the railroad move?
I bet just like the railroad, there was no homes next to the "CPI" building when it was built.

People living next to the Reid Hillview airport in San Jose want it close. You knew when you move there that the airport was there first- live with it or move. Same for those next to CPI.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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