Denver student hit in chest with jet of flaming methanol
Sep17

Denver student hit in chest with jet of flaming methanol

New incident, same message: Don’t pour alcohol anywhere near a possible flame. At a press briefing yesterday, Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board investigators spoke about what they've learned so far regarding an incident at a Denver high school that sent four students to the hospital on Monday: The teacher lit a small pool of methanol to demonstrate its flame properties. When the flame didn't rise as high as desired, he added more methanol from a 4 L container. The fire flashed back into the container, then emerged as a "jet fire" that traveled 15 ft to hit a student in the chest. That student was wearing a synthetic shirt and was seriously injured, others sitting nearby were also hurt. CSB investigators also spoke about the Sept. 3 incident involving a "tornado" demo at a Reno, Nev., museum that sent nine people to the hospital. CSB had previously released details on that one, which involved pouring methanol from a 4 L bottle onto what was likely a smoldering cotton ball. The only new information yesterday was that the demo normally involves three tornadoes in varying fuel/additive combinations to show different flame colors. Also, back when the museum started using the demo, demonstrators had left the 4 L bottle in another area, taking out to the demo table only the amount needed. "Out of convenience, over time, the 4 L container itself had started being used in the demonstration," CSB inspector Mark Wingard said. "Instructors and teachers are just not aware of the flashback hazard of methanol," CSB managing director Daniel Horowitz said. "Methanol has a flash point that's pretty similar to gasoline. I think that if people knew that gallon containers of gasoline were being brought into classrooms right near flames, they would be horrified." Here are stories I was able to turn up from roughly the past year either definitely were or sound like methanol fires: Sept. 9, 2013, in Frisco, Tex.: Two middle school students and a teacher were injured in a flash fire that arose from a flame test experiment involving methanol. Oct. 3, 2013, in Douglas County, Ga.: One student suffered burns on 25% of her body when, while doing a flame test experiment, "a flammable liquid dispensed from the container unexpectedly fast and ignited, involving a 12th grade female student and catching her on fire." Nov. 12, 2013, in Avondale, Az.: Four students and a teacher were injured in a "flash explosion" that occurred during a flame test experiment. Nov. 25, 2013, in Chicago, Ill.: A high school student suffered second-degree burns on her hands and four other students were hospitalized when the teacher was doing a flame test...

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CSB warns against using methanol in classroom or lab demos
Sep15

CSB warns against using methanol in classroom or lab demos

Following up on the flash fire during a "tornado" demo in a Nevada museum, the U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board released a statement today containing details of the incident and warning against using methanol in combustion demonstrations. CSB investigators responded to the museum fire, and their description of what happened confirms what the Associated Press reported: Our investigative team determined that the incident occurred during a “fire tornado” demonstration where salts of different elements were combusted in a dish in the presence of alcohol-soaked cotton balls, while spinning on a lazy Susan-type rotating tray. This produces a tornado-like colored flame that rises in the air. The incident happened during a version where boric acid was to be burned in the presence of a methanol-soaked cotton ball. When the cotton failed to ignite it was realized that it had not been adequately wetted with methanol. More methanol was added to the cotton from a four-liter (one gallon) plastic bottle. Unknown to personnel, the cotton ball was likely continuing to smolder, and it ignited the freshly added methanol and flashed back to the bottle. Burning methanol then sprayed from the bottle toward the nearby audience of adults and children visiting the museum. The CSB statement, by chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso, goes on to say that: Methanol is an essential chemical and an emerging energy resource with a multitude of important industrial and environmental uses. But in the cautionary words of Greg Dolan, CEO of the Methanol Institute, which represents the manufacturing community, “Like gasoline, methanol is a toxic and flammable chemical and should only be handled in appropriate settings, and that would certainly not include museums and classrooms.” Methanol readily emits heavier-than-air flammable vapors and the liquid has a low flash point, meaning it can ignite at room temperature in the presence of an ignition source. This creates an unacceptable risk of flash fire whenever any appreciable quantities of methanol are handled in the open lab or classroom in the presence of pervasive ignition sources, such as open flames, heat sources, or sparks. There is also a significant risk of flashback to any nearby methanol bulk container, as was the case in this last incident in Reno, Nevada. ... Today I am calling on all schools, museums, and science educators to discontinue any use of bulk methanol – or other similar flammables – in lab demonstrations that involve combustion, open flames, or ignition sources. There are safer alternative ways to demonstrate the same scientific phenomena, and many teachers are already using them. Any use of methanol or other flammables should be either avoided completely or restricted to minimal amounts, which...

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Safety agency news mini-round-up
Jul01

Safety agency news mini-round-up

I know that many blog readers like the chemical safety news round-ups, which went on hiatus for many months while I was busy with other things. I'm hoping to make a fresh start on those in a couple of weeks, after I return from vacation. This week my goal is to clean out my safety items folder, and as part of that I'm aiming to do a post a day with a few things each. Today is government agency day. Occupational Safety & Health Administration OSHA released an interactive game-based training tool for hazard identification: OSHA also clarified injury and illness recordkeeping for temporary workers, reestablished its whistleblower protection advisory committee, and scheduled a meeting in October to discuss efforts to improve its Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory Program, which tests and certifies equipment such as fire extinguishers. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board The board is down to merely two members, when it should have five. Beth Rosenberg resigned to return to Tufts University School of Medicine, where she believes "she will be more effective in promoting worker safety issues at Tufts than at CSB. She tells C&EN she will work on demonstrating that worker fatigue and lack of maintenance often contribute to industrial accidents. CSB investigations have pointed out these problems, she says, but the board, in her view, did not emphasize them adequately." There are two CSB nominees in the wings, waiting for Senate approval, but lack of board members isn't CSB's only problem. Congressional Republicans called for chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso's resignation in light of a report alleging serious management problems and a "'toxic' work environment" that has stalled the agency's work. Update: The Charleston Gazette's Sustained Outrage blog also had a post about what's going on at CSB, with a longer-term, bigger-picture view. CSB in June also finalized its report about the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, specifically regarding why the blowout preventer failed: After testing individual components of the blowout preventer (BOP) and analyzing all the data from post-accident examinations, the CSB draft report concluded that the BOP’s blind shear ram – an emergency hydraulic device with two sharp cutting blades, intended to seal an out-of-control well – likely did activate on the night of the accident, days earlier than other investigations found. However, the pipe buckling that likely occurred on the night of April 20 prevented the blind shear ram from functioning properly. Instead of cleanly cutting and sealing the well’s drill pipe, the shear ram actually punctured the buckled, off-center pipe, sending huge additional volumes of oil and gas surging toward the surface and initiating the 87-day-long oil and gas release into...

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Another acid leak at Tesoro refinery
Mar18

Another acid leak at Tesoro refinery

Less than a month after two workers were injured in an acid leak at a Tesoro refinery in Martinez, Calif., two more workers were burned in another acid leak at the same refinery. The second workers were injured on March 10 when they cut into a sulfuric acid pipe as part of planned maintenance, the Sacramento Bee reported. "The men were initially protected from injury by their protective suits, but some acid remained on the garments and drained onto their necks after the men took decontamination showers," other workers told SFGate. The workers injured in the previous leak were not wearing similar protective gear, according to the U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB). CSB is investigating the incidents, although in February Tesoro blocked CSB investigators from the site and refused to preserve the first scene. The company eventually allowed investigators back on the grounds, SFGate reported. "But the company 'has yet to provide some of the key documents sought' and did not preserve some evidence from the incident," CSB spokesperson Hillary Cohen told SFGate. In 2012, Tesoro dropped out of two volunteer worker-safety programs, reported the Contra Costa Times. One was the "Triangle of Prevention" program developed by the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union and continued by the United Steelworkers. The other program was the "Voluntary Protection Program," which is a cooperative program with the California Division of Occupational Safety & Health. Refinery spokesperson Tina Barbee told the Times that the refinery had replaced the Triangle of Prevention program with a system that has "better root cause analysis during incident investigation," and that it was technically ineligible to participate in the Voluntary Protection Program. A survey of refinery workers, however, indicated that safety conditions had deteriorated at the site since 2007," United Steelworkers representative Tracy Scott told the Times. The two acid leaks come on the heels of a CSB draft report on a 2010 fire at a Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Wash.. That incident killed seven workers. CSB has released two videos about that incident, "Animation of Explosion at Tesoro's Anacortes Refinery" and "The Human Cost of...

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Tesoro refinery fire caused by weakened steel
Feb04

Tesoro refinery fire caused by weakened steel

Last week, the U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board released its draft report about a 2010 fire at a Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Wash., that killed seven workers. The fire occurred when a naphtha heat exchanger ruptured, the report says. The cause of the rupture was high temperature hydrogen attack, which occurs when hydrogen atoms diffuse into carbon steel and react with the carbon to form methane. The methane accumulates in the steel and causes stress and fissures. CSB found that curves established by the American Petroleum Institute to predict high temperature hydrogen attack are inaccurate. "CSB has learned of at least eight recent refinery incidents where HTHA reportedly occurred below the carbon steel Nelson curve," the report says. Here's CSB's video about the incident: Additionally, The CSB found several indications of process safety culture deficiencies at the Tesoro Anacortes Refinery. Refinery management had normalized the occurrences of hazardous conditions, including frequent leaks from the [naphtha hydrotreater unit] heat exchangers, by using steam to mitigate leaks, ineffectively correcting heat exchanger design issues, commonly requiring additional operators during [naphtha hydrotreater unit] heat exchanger startups, and exceeding the staffing levels that procedures specified. and The refinery process safety culture required proof of danger rather than proof of effective safety implementation. For years, technical experts used design data to evaluate the B and E heat exchangers for HTHA susceptibility. Data for actual operating conditions were not readily available, and these technical experts were not required to prove safety effectiveness in reaching their conclusion that the B and E heat exchangers were not susceptible to HTHA damage. CSB noted several similarities between the Tesoro fire and a Chevron refinery fire in Richmond, Calif., in 2012: The Chevron "incident was also the result of a metallurgical failure caused by a well-known damage mechanism called sulfidation corrosion, and Chevron process safety programs failed to identify the hazard before the major incident that endangered the lives of 19 Chevron employees." "Mechanical integrity programs at both Tesoro and Chevron emphasized inspection strategies rather than the use of inherently safer design to control the damage mechanisms that ultimately caused the major process safety incidents." "Rather than performing rigorous analyses of damage mechanisms during the PHA process, both companies simply cited non-specific, judgment-based qualitative safeguards to reduce the risk of damage mechanisms." One of the recommendations CSB makes in its Tesoro report is that Washington state implement a "safety case" approach to regulation, in which companies develop their own process safety requirements that are closely overseen by state regulators. The agency made the same recommendation to California in its Chevron report, but that report fell to a divided...

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CSB report on Chevron refinery fire urges new regulatory approach
Dec19

CSB report on Chevron refinery fire urges new regulatory approach

On Monday, the U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board released its draft report on a 2012 Chevron refinery fire in Richmond, Calif. CSB recommended that the state switch from a "current patchwork of largely reactive and activity-based regulations" to a performance-based system, the agency's press release says. CSB released an interim analysis and video of the incident earlier this year. The fire was caused by rupture of a pipe in a crude oil processing unit; the pipe was first identified as corroded in 2002 but was never replaced. The regulatory approach CSB now recommends is called the "safety case" system and is already used in the United Kingdom, Norway, and Australia. From CSB's press release: ...the safety case regime requires companies to demonstrate to refinery industry regulators – through a written “safety case report” – how major hazards are to be controlled and risks reduced to “as low as reasonably practicable,” or ALARP. The CSB report notes that the safety case is more than a written document; rather, it represents a fundamental change by shifting the responsibility for continuous reductions in major accident risks from regulators to the company. To ensure that a facility’s safety goals and programs are accomplished, a safety case report generated by the company is rigorously reviewed, audited, and enforced by highly trained regulatory inspectors, whose technical training and experience are on par with the personnel employed by the companies they oversee, the draft report says. That will mean that the regulatory agencies involved will also likely have to pay their employees more. A table in the CSB report notes that refinery personnel have an average annual salary of $187,630, while inspectors for county, state, and federal agencies make $96,875-$125,000 (pdf page 81). CSB is accepting public comments on the report until Jan. 3. The agency will formally adopt or modify the report at a public hearing in Richmond on Jan. 15. The Associated Press also reported this week that the Environmental Protection Agency "filed a formal notice against Chevron finding 62 violations of federal environmental laws." The story goes on to say that EPA may "pursue criminal charges or fines if the company fails to address the violations." So far there seems to be no mention of the notice on EPA's main or regional...

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