Distillery scrambles to contain freak molasses spill

A rum distillery in Antigua is working to contain a freak molasses spill – the first of its kind in its 85-year history – after a storage tank containing 2,000 tonnes of the thick, sticky substance overflowed.

The tank that overflowed, spilling molasses into the road outside the distillery

The spill was discovered at The Antigua Distillery in the West Indies on Saturday (10 June) as a delivery of molasses was being pumped into a storage tank. According to the distillery, a thick layer of foam had formed on top of the mollases as it was being pumped into the storage tanker, which was found to be leaking through the vents under the roof of the tank, causing the thick substance to spill into the distillery and into the road.

The spill continued for much of Saturday and Sunday as the team worked to stem its flow, with a vacuum truck brought into the remove the thick substance and a water truck to wash the main road of any residual molasses.

The primary concern was that the thick substance could have have reached the coast, spilling into the sea and endangering wildlife. However representatives of Antigua’s Environmental Division have since said they were “satisfied that all efforts were being made to curtail the flow of molasses into the sea and to minimise any effect on marine life.”

The primary concern is currently the pungent odour emitted by the spill, which is expected to be fully contained by this weekend.

Commenting on the “unusual incident”, managing director of The Antigua Distillery, Anthony Bento, said the company took full responsibility for the incident and was currently conducting further investigations into what caused it.

Molasses spills are rare but can be incredibly serious, not only for the environment, but to people close by.

The most famous molasses-related incident is the Great Molasses Flood, also known as the Boston Molasses Disaster, which happened on 15 January In 1919 at the Purity Distilling Company in Boston, Massachusetts.

A large molasses storage tank burst spewing forth a wave of molasses through the streets at an estimated 35 mph, killing 21 and injuring 150. Almost a century after the incident, residents still claim that on hot summer days the area still smells of molasses.

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