Um … oops … hazardous materials accidents (and a link to some safety tips)

April 19, 2013

Major chemical accidents like the recent fertilizer plant explosion in Texas seem most threatening because they often kill people outright, however it is the smaller, more routine accidents and spills that affect most people.

Some of the most common spills involve tanker trucks and railroad tankers containing gasoline, chlorine, acid, or other industrial chemicals. Many spills occur during the transportation of hazardous materials. For example, in 2012, spills from 12,995 highway and 665 railroad accidents resulted in 11 deaths, 160 injuries, and damages exceeding more than $73 million.

The Spills and Accidents database contains statistics on toxic chemical spills and other accidents reported to the National Response Center (NRC … formerly called ERNS, the Emergency Response Notification System). The database shows that 28,591 accidents involving toxic chemicals were reported to the NRC in 2012, meaning that on average, some type of toxic chemical accident was reported 78 times a day in the U.S., or nearly 3 times per hour.

Did you know…

  • as many as 500,000 products pose physical or health hazards and can be defined as “hazardous materials” and over 1,000 new synthetic chemicals are introduced each year?!
  • each year about 400 million metric tons of hazardous wastes are generated worldwide?!
  • according to FEMA, varying quantities of hazardous materials are manufactured, used, or stored at an estimated 4.5 million facilities in the U.S.?!

Hazardous materials can range from waste produced by a petroleum refinery to materials used by the dry cleaners to pesticides stored in your home. And, although the chemical industry has a good safety record, accidents and chemical spills happen and toxic materials may be released into the air and water.

Explosion at the fertilizer plant in West, Texas – on Wednesday the explosion killed 14 and injured about 200 with 60 people still unaccounted for as of today. Following the accident, one of the immediate fears was that the accident had released large amounts of ammonia gas, which can cause breathing difficulties or suffocation. (Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those impacted by this tragic accident.)

West Texas fertilizer plant fire

REUTERS / Mike Stone

Texas City disaster – the deadliest industrial accident in U.S. history took place on April 16, 1947, and began with a mid-morning fire on board the French-registered vessel SS Grandcamp which was docked in the Port of Texas City. The fire detonated approximately 2,300 tons (2,086,100 kg) of ammonium nitrate and the resulting chain reaction of fires and explosions killed at least 581 people, including all but one member of the Texas City fire department.

The blast leveled nearly 1,000 buildings on land and sightseeing airplanes flying nearby had their wings shorn off, forcing them out of the sky. Ten miles away, people in Galveston were forced to their knees; windows were shattered in Houston, 40 miles (60 km) away. People felt the shock 100 miles away in Louisiana. Source: Wikipedia

Cataño oil refinery fire – a massive fire and explosion sent huge flames and smoke plumes into the air at the Carribean Petroleum Corporation near San Juan, Puerto Rico. Amazingly there were no fatalities, but 3 people were injured.

Catano oil refinery explosion and fire in Puerto Rico

Train derailment in NJ – four cars (including 3 in the water) contained vinyl chloride which can induce respiratory problems, dizziness and other health effects after short-term exposure — and liver problems and other complications after high levels of exposure over time.

chemical spill due to NJ train derailment

Deepwater Horizon oil spill – Following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which claimed 11 lives on 20-April-2010, a sea-floor oil gusher flowed unabated for 87 days, until it was capped. The total discharge is estimated at 4.9 million barrels (210 million US gal; 780,000 m3). After several failed efforts to contain the flow, the well was declared sealed on 19-September-2010. Source: Wikipedia

Find some resources below … and have a safe weekend! j & B

Additional Sources:

US Chemical Safety Board
DOT PHMSA Hazmat Intelligence Portal
Right to Know Network

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