Thursday, July 3, 2008

Chemical Incident Review – 7-3-08

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.

Greenstreet Recycling; Lehigh Acres, FL

A truck trying to deliver a load of scrap metal to the recycling center was turned away when the truck set off a gamma ray radiation detector. Concern was further raised when the driver parked in a auto supply store parking lot and notified the local sheriff that he had a radiation source on his truck. A subsequent search of the truck found no radiation source.

I’m not sure why a recycling center had a radiation detector on site, but it apparently did. Any time a hazardous material detection device is used, the facility needs to have a procedure in place for when the alarm goes off. That plan should not include letting the vehicle drive off. Notifying local authorities should be high on the list.

Eberhard’s Dairy; Redmond, OR

When drivers started complaining about the stench of ammonia in Redmond the fire department knew just where to look. They went to Eberhard’s Dairy. A leaking valve on the refrigeration system was allowing anhydrous ammonia to leak to the atmosphere. An emergency shut off valve operated properly and minimized the extent of the leak.

The fire department knew where to go because they knew what facilities in their town had anhydrous ammonia on site. This is one of the reasons that it is important for facilities to coordinate with their local first responders well in advance of an incident.

Waste Water Treatment Plant; Cedar Park, TX

An estimated 4,000 pounds of industrial strength bleach leaked from a containment dike into a local creek, killing hundreds of fish. A broken pipe originally allowed the bleach to leak from a storage tank into the surrounding containment area. The leak from the containment happened because an employee had left a drain valve inthe open position.

Containment dikes and walls are an important leak mitigation device for hazardous chemical storage facilities. Drain valves are frequently used to drain accumulated rainwater from the diked area. Because of the time it takes for these areas to drain after significant rainfalls, it is not unusual for employees to forget to close those drain valves.

This is the reason that many facilities opt to use sump pumps to drain rainwater from containment areas instead of using a drain valve.

In any case, where a containment area is part of a facilities mitigation plan for a hazmat release or terrorist attack, routine inspections of must be included in the mitigation plan. Formal inspections, particularly of drain valves, at shift change and facility shut down should be required.

Waste Water Treatment Plant; Petersburg, VA

A small incendiary device was placed in a generator at the waste-water treatment facility pumping station in Petersburg, VA. When the device ignited it started a small fire that was limited to the generator. No one was injured and there was no structural damage reported. The local fire chief reported that the fire could have touched off an explosion of nearby gas pipelines.

There is no mention of terrorism in the news report. Since there were no reports of claims of responsibility, this was probably an act of vandalism or a non-politically motivated attack on the facility. Incidents of this type just provide another justification for increasing the security measures at facilities that house highly hazardous chemicals.

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