What’s Your Battery Room Spill Plan?

When is the last time you thought about the plumbing in your data center?  Likely, it is not often, but for your battery rooms it can be vitally important.  From day to day, most lead-acid batteries are stable, but a spill management plan can address the many safety, health, and environmental concerns long before trouble arises.

For an owner/operator to address a battery room’s requirements, the spill management plan should address the hazards for each room specifically.  There should be a control area to contain an acid (electrolyte) spill and that area should not be part of any egress, especially not blocking an emergency exit.  The controlled area will likely have a barrier that can handle the physical stress of day-to-day access to the batteries as well as the chemical attack from a leak or spill.  Next there should be the means to neutralize the electrolyte, which can be done with absorption or through a neutralization system.  Lastly, the area will need to be cleaned, but this should be done very carefully for all of the same safety, health, and environmental reasons.

There are a few things to look for after a spill event.  If there is concrete that was exposed to the acid for a prolonged period, the structural supporting steel (rebar) within the concrete could have been attacked by the acid after it worked its way through the pores of the concrete.  While this is generally mild at the beginning, it can create a prolonged exposure of the steel that will degrade over time.  Multiple spills will compound this problem.

With a drain system, the acid will react with the metal pipe, with one of the products released being hydrogen.  Since the reaction is exothermic (releases heat), for a large spill there is the concern of trapped hydrogen igniting before it reaches any downstream neutralization pit or tank.  This can be addressed by keeping that tank or pit close to the source to prevent a long pipe from holding a lot of acid for a long period.

Environmentally, we want to make sure that a plumbing neutralization pit or tank can handle the acid spill and that the resulting waste will be acceptable in the sanitary system.  Sometimes marble chips can be used in a tank, but the concern is that the reaction with the acid will form a film that will prevent further neutralization and the acid will continue untreated.  The fumes from the acid reacting with the normal sanitary system should be dealt with by the sanitary vents; however the gases released are terrible for air quality and can be hazardous for anyone near the vent outlets until the acid is neutralized.

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