The US Chemical Safety Board this week released a new video and case study that detail the October 2016 release of chlorine gas from a grain processing and distilling facility in Atchison, Kansas.
On October 21, 2016, a routine shipment of 30% sulfuric acid arrived at the Atchison plant by truck. While unloading the material, the driver found two unlabeled, unlocked, and identical feed lines, situated eighteen inches apart—one led to a tank of sulfuric acid and the other to a tank of sodium hypochlorite (i.e., bleach).
The driver hooked up to the wrong feed line, pumping sulfuric acid into the wrong tank, which started a chemical reaction and resulted in a cloud of chlorine and other compounds that floated through the facility and community. The chemical reaction went on for nearly 45 minutes because the driver was unable to reach shut-off equipment due to the chemical cloud engulfing the truck.
See CSB’s case study and recommendations here.
Is Unloading Hazmat Especially Dangerous?
Loading and unloading hazardous materials may seem simple compared to more complex industrial processes. However, because unloading often involves large volumes of hazardous chemicals, the consequences of an incident during this process can be severe and widespread.
In fact, PHMSA data from 2003–2007 shows a significant number of reported incidents occurred during loading or unloading incident to movement of hazmat. Since January 1, 2014, eight hazmat incidents involved incompatible chemicals mistakenly mixed together during loading, resulting in chemical reactions, 44 injuries, and 846 evacuations.
(photos courtesy of NBC News and KMBC News)
What Is the Chemical Safety Board (CSB)?
In 1990, as part of a bill to amend the US EPA's Clean Air Act, Congress established the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB). An independent Federal agency, the CSB is charged with investigating chemical accidents and hazards at industrial facilities. It operates under the direct supervision of the president and Congress, to which it must submit annual reports on its activities.
Modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the CSB’s role is to investigate serious chemical accidents, identify their root causes, and recommend measures to prevent similar incidents in the future. While the Board can make recommendations to governing agencies like OSHA and US EPA, it does not have rulemaking, inspection, or enforcement powers.
Read more: Know Your Safety Agency—CSB
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