On nitrous oxide tank explosions and whipped cream shortages
Dec21

On nitrous oxide tank explosions and whipped cream shortages

The canned whipped cream shortage caused by a fatal explosion at an Airgas facility in August has been all over the news for the last couple of weeks. Plant operator Jesse Graham Folmar, 32, was killed in the explosion. The explosion involved a nitrous oxide holding tank and two tankers, and the facility has been closed since. That has caused a shortage of the gas, which serves as the whipping agent in whipped cream dispensers. Atlantic reporter Sarah Zhang talked to U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board investigator Dan Tillema about the explosion. Although the CSB report is not out yet, here’s what Tillema said about it: [Tillema] now thinks the likely culprit is the pump used to get nitrous oxide into the tanker. (There is also a small chance it was stray static electricity, which is impossible to completely rule out.) Residual heat in the pump can heat up the nitrous oxide enough to make the gas decompose into nitrogen and oxygen. This reaction releases more heat, which in turn makes more gas decompose, and so on. Kaboom. Tillema’s investigation will be published early next year, along with recommendations to prevent such accidents in the future. Also: Tillema says he has gotten questions about the accident’s connection to the whipped cream shortage. But as someone who has lived and breathed this investigation for months, he can’t help but think of the man who died. “It’s hard for me to worry about the whipped cream knowing that Jesse’s family members and coworkers are thinking about a lot more than whipped cream this year,” he...

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China tightens grip on hazardous chemicals
Dec12

China tightens grip on hazardous chemicals

From Jean-Francois Tremblay’s C&EN story: China’s highest decision-making body, the State Council, has unveiled a three-year plan to prevent accidents involving hazardous chemicals. The plan was crafted in response to the August 2015 explosion at a hazardous goods storage site in Tianjin that killed 165 people, most of them firefighters. … Countrywide audits will certainly reduce the risk of industrial accidents involving hazardous goods, observes Kai Pflug, president of the Shanghai-based advisory firm Management Consulting – Chemicals. “Hazardous chemicals have been very frequently stored and shipped in ways that were prohibited by Chinese law,” he says. But the country doesn’t need new regulations, Pflug says. “The accident in Tianjin wouldn’t have been so bad if existing rules had been followed,” he notes. Already, Pflug reports, European chemical companies operating in China complain that shipping regulations are too onerous. And some ports refuse to accept hazardous chemicals, forcing firms to use ports that are farther away from customers, Pflug says. “Longer road shipments don’t help safety,” he notes. Go read the full story for...

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Chinese courts hand down one death and 49 prison sentences for Tianjin disaster
Dec06

Chinese courts hand down one death and 49 prison sentences for Tianjin disaster

Courts in Tianjin last week on Nov. 9 sentenced a company chairman to death and 49 others to prison for actions leading to an explosion last year in which at least 165 people were killed, reports official Chinese news agency Xinhua. “On Aug. 12, 2015, a series of explosions ripped through a warehouse of Ruihai Logistics Co. Ltd. (Ruihai Logistics) in Tianjin Port, leaving 165 people dead, eight missing, and 798 injured,” Xinhua says. “The blasts also damaged 304 buildings, 12,428 cars, and 7,533 containers, incurring economic losses amounting to 6.87 billion yuan (1.01 billion U.S. dollars).” “Yu Xuewei, chairman of Ruihai Logistics, was found guilty of bribing port administration officials with cash and goods worth 157,500 yuan (23,333 U.S. dollars) to obtain a certificate to handle hazardous chemicals at the port,” Xinhua reports. “Yu was convicted of illegal storage of hazardous materials, illegal business operations, causing incidents involving hazardous materials, and bribery. He was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve.” The 49 people who received prison sentences included 24 managers and other employees of Ruihai Logistics and Tianjin Zhongbin Haisheng, as well as 25 government officials. “Officials of various government agencies involving transportation, ports, customs, industrial safety, city planning, and maritime affairs were also responsible for the accident due to dereliction of duty and abuse of power,” Xinhua says. Investigators determined that the incident started when overly dry nitrocellulose overheated and spontaneously ignited, reported C&EN’s Jean-François Tremblay last year. The fire started by the nitrocellulose spread to ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which exploded. h/t Jean-François...

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Juries award damages, CSB releases report for fatal Williams Olefins explosion
Nov30

Juries award damages, CSB releases report for fatal Williams Olefins explosion

Costs are mounting for Williams Olefins following a 2013 fire at a plant in Geismar, La., that killed two workers—Zach Green, 29, and Scott Thrower, 47—and injured 167 others. In the past few months, juries have awarded eight injured workers a total of $26.9 million after attorneys “argued that Williams, key management figures and others had known for years that one of two reboilers used in the refinery process was isolated from pressure relief—which meant there was a risk of over-pressurization and explosion,” the Baton Rouge Advocate reported. A reboiler is a heat exchanger that supplies heat to a distillation column. Last month, the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board released its investigation findings. Reported Jeff Johnson for C&EN: The reboiler that failed was one of two in the system that provided heat to the propylene fractionator—a distillation column that separates propylene and propane. The second reboiler was a backup and had been off-line for 16 months. Plant officials assumed the backup reboiler was clean and available for use. When the operating reboiler appeared to have fouled, plant operators began to shift operations to the idle reboiler. The plant operators did not know that the standby reboiler contained hydrocarbons and its pressure relief system was not in proper order, CSB found. As the reboiler’s heat increased, the confined liquid hydrocarbons expanded, resulting in a quick and dramatic pressure rise within the vessel. The shell ruptured, causing a release, an expanding vapor explosion, and a fire. A series of process safety management program deficiencies over the 12 years before the accident allowed the reboiler to be unprotected from overpressure problems, according to CSB. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) also investigated the incident. The agency initially cited the company for six safety violations fined the company $99,000, but that was negotiated down to $36,000. The case remains open pending abatement of violations, according to the OSHA inspection database. Another inspection in the fall of 2013 resulted in one citation and a fine of $7,000. That case is closed. OSHA appears not to have inspected the facility since then. Williams Olefins is a subsidiary of the Williams...

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Explosion kills at least two workers at BASF site in Germany
Oct19

Explosion kills at least two workers at BASF site in Germany

From C&EN’s story: A huge explosion and fire at BASF’s Ludwigshafen, Germany, site—one of the world’s largest chemical complexes—killed two company firefighters. Another employee is missing. Eight other BASF staffers were seriously injured and 17 slightly injured from the fire, which broke out on the morning of Monday, Oct. 17. The explosion and resultant fire occurred among pipelines that connect the firm’s harbor on the Rhine River to the Ludwigshafen complex. Maintenance work was being carried out on the pipelines, some of which carry ethylene and propylene, at the time of the explosion. The fire burned for more than 10 hours before it was extinguished. Go read the story for...

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EPA to require chemical companies to consider inherently safer technologies
Mar02

EPA to require chemical companies to consider inherently safer technologies

“Chemical companies and refineries would have to consider inherently safer technologies and, in some cases, undergo third-party, independent safety audits under a new Environmental Protection Agency proposal,” writes Jeff Johnson at C&EN this week. EPA’s proposal would, for the first time, require a subsection of companies, including refiners and chemical makers, to consider using alternative, safer technologies as they regularly update their [risk management plans], which is required at least every five years. Consideration is all that would be required; implementation of safer technologies would not be, stresses Mathy Stanislaus, EPA assistant administrator for land and emergency management. EPA would have access to a company’s assessment of safer technologies but the public would not, Stanislaus tells C&EN. … Also, the proposal would require companies that have chemical accidents to hire an independent third party to conduct compulsory safety audits, rather doing these audits themselves, as they do now, says Stanislaus. And after an accident or a near-miss incident, companies would have to conduct root-cause analyses and prepare incident reports for EPA. The story notes that EPA’s proposal comes out of a re-examination of EPA regulations ordered by President Barack Obama following a 2013 ammonium nitrate explosion at West Fertilizer that killed 15 people. But facilites such as West won’t be covered by the regulation because EPA is not adding ammonium nitrate to its risk management plan...

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