Saturday, May 31, 2008

Chemical Incident Review – 5-31-08

Once again, since there have been no reported terrorist incidents at chemical facilities reported in the press, we will look at chemical accidents and incidents that have been reported. It has been a busy couple of weeks according to news reports, so we have lots to choose from. Remember, this is not being done to review safety, but rather to look at such incidents to see what they can teach us about security and mitigation.

Reaction Products; Richmond, CA

Thirty-six hundred gallons of toluene were released from a storage tank when thieves stole the brass valves holding the chemical in the tank. The thieves apparently thought the storage tank was empty. A small amount of the solvent reached the San Francisco Bay and 1500 homes received a shelter-in-place order.

This incident points out an alternative reason for increasing the security at chemical facilities; preventing chemical releases due to theft. Metal fixture theft and chemical thefts would be prevented by the same security measures put into place to protect against terrorist attacks.

Marriott Marquis Hotel; Atlanta, GA

A fire in a storage area resulted in a chlorine leak in the hotel. The fire, smoke, and toxic chemical resulted in the evacuation of 700 guests. No injuries were reported. According to the news report the chlorine was used in the air-conditioning system, probably as a disinfectant in the cooling tower.

One does not normally think of hotels as chemical facilities. The use of chlorine and anhydrous ammonia in cooling systems and chlorine as a pool disinfectant provide multiple chemical sources for a terrorist attack on a high value target.

Surgichrome; Clackamas, OR

A toxic chemical release was averted during a recent industrial fire. Management had notified the local fire department not to use water to fight fires in their facility. The electroplating facility has open vats of chromic acid on site. Large volumes of water sprayed onto the fire could overflow the vat, resulting in a toxic chemical release similar to the one seen recently in a fire at a Ft Smith, AR plating company.

Proper advanced coordination with emergency responders is an important part of any emergency response plan. This is of critical importance for chemical facilities. Too many chemicals react with water which increases the risks associated with the incident.

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