Friday, August 8, 2008

Chemical Incident Review 8-08-08

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.


Shoreline Pools; Stamford, CT


A fire at a pool supply warehouse resulted in 38 trucks at the facility exploding as the heat of the fire reached each of the pool cleaning trucks. Thirteen of the city’s 3rd shift police officers were treated for chemical exposure. A police spokesman said that this ‘decimated’ the shift resulting in the need for state police to assist in patrolling the city for the remainder of the night.


Fire fighting personnel carry breathing air so that they are less likely to be affected by chemical fumes. Police, on the other hand, seldom carry anything more than cartridge respirators that are not designed to deal with many toxic chemicals. Additionally, police are not as well trained to deal with chemical exposure issues.


Emergency response plans for high-risk chemical facilities need to take this into account. Police personnel need to know what risks they take in responding to incidents at the facility. Emergency responders that routinely operate in the area of the facility should be equipped with appropriate chemical detection equipment to ensure that they are not inadvertently exposed to dangerous levels of toxic chemicals.


Occidental Chemical; Corpus Christi, TX


During the unloading of vinyl chloride, a toxic gas, from a ship docked at the Occidental dock, chemical alarms at an adjacent plant went off signaling a chemical leak. Investigation showed that there was a leak on the ship. Two of the Coast Guard responders and 28 shipboard personnel were treated for exposure. The Coast Guard is investigating why detectors onboard the ship and at Occidental did not sound.


If a chemical facility is going to use chemical detectors as part of its site security plan it must include routine checks of the operation of those detectors as part of that plan. In addition to the manufacturer’s suggested schedule of checks, the facility should verify detector response before loading, unloading or transfer operations.


Champlain Centre Mall; Plattsburgh, NY


Half of the Champlain Centre Mall was evacuated when construction crews broke the valve off a 1,000 gallon propane tank when they tried to move the tank at a construction site at the mall. Patrons were not allowed to move cars in the vicinity of the site for fear of igniting the fuel-air cloud produced by the leak. The tank was allowed to empty and the propane dissipated without incident.


Fuel-air mixtures of propane can be very explosive, creating over-pressure effects over a wide area. In confined spaces like malls, theaters and churches the rapid consumption of oxygen by the exploding mixture could cause asphyxiation and breathing problems for personnel not affected by the blast itself. Once again, I would like to suggest that DHS re-look at its 60,000 pound STQ for propane as a significant terrorist attack could successfully completed with much less than that amount.

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