CSB Releases New Safety Video Detailing 2010 Ammonia Release

The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released its latest safety video detailing key lessons from the release of 32,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia that occurred at Millard Refrigerated Services Inc. on August 23, 2010. The accident resulted in over 150 exposures to offsite workers, thirty of which were hospitalized – four in an intensive care unit.

The newly released seven-minute safety video, entitled “Shock to the System,” includes a detailed 3D animation of the events that led up the resulting ammonia release. The video is based on the CSB’s recent safety bulletin entitled “Key Lessons for Preventing Hydraulic Shock in Industrial Refrigeration Systems.”

Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso said, “The CSB’s new safety video is a valuable tool intended for use at the large number of facilities that utilize anhydrous ammonia. The key lessons learned from our investigation – examined in our report and in this video — can help facilities prevent a similar accident from occurring due to hydraulic shock.”

The CSB’s video is available at its YouTube channel and at www.csb.gov

The CSB’s investigation found that the day prior to the accident the Millard facility experienced a loss of power that lasted more than seven hours. During that time the refrigeration system was shut down. The next day, on August 23, 2010, the system regained power and was up and running, though operators reported certain problems.  While doing some troubleshooting an operator cleared alarms in the control system, which reset the refrigeration cycle on a group of freezer evaporators that were in the process of defrosting.

This resulted in both hot, high-pressure gas and extremely low temperature liquid ammonia to be present in the coils and associated piping at the same time. This caused the hot high-pressure ammonia gas to rapidly condense into a liquid.  Because liquid ammonia takes up less volume than ammonia gas – a vacuum was created where the gas had condensed.

The sudden pressure drop sent a wave of liquid ammonia through the piping – causing a sudden pressure surge known as “hydraulic shock.”

This abnormal transient condition results in a sharp pressure rise with the potential to cause catastrophic failure of piping, valves, and other components. Often prior to a hydraulic shock incident there is an audible “hammering” in refrigeration piping.

CSB Investigator Tyler said, “The CSB’s animation details how the pressure surge ruptured the evaporator piping manifold inside one of the freezers causing a roof-mounted 12-inch suction pipe to catastrophically fail, resulting in the release of more than 32,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia and its associated 12-inch piping on the roof of the facility.”

The release resulted in injuries to a Millard employee when he fell while attempting to escape from a crane after it became engulfed in the traveling ammonia cloud.  The large cloud traveled a quarter mile from the facility south toward an area where 800 contractors were working outdoors at a clean-up site for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A total of 152 offsite workers and ship crew members reported symptomatic illnesses from ammonia exposure. Thirty two of the offsite workers required hospitalization, four of them in an intensive care unit.

The video presents the key lessons learned from the CSB’s investigation including avoiding the manual interruption of evaporators in defrost and requiring control systems to be equipped with password protection to ensure only trained and authorized personnel have the authority to manually override systems. On the day of the incident, the control system did not recognize that the evaporator was already in the process of defrosting, and allowed an operator to manually restart the refrigeration cycle without removing the hot ammonia gas from the evaporator coil.

The CSB also found that the evaporators at the Millard facility were designed so that one set of valves controlled four separate evaporator coils. As a result, the contents of all four coils connected to that valve group were involved in the hydraulic shock event – leading to a larger, more hazardous pressure surge. As a result, the CSB notes that when designing ammonia refrigeration systems each evaporator coil should be controlled by a separate set of valves.

And the CSB found that immediately after discovering the ammonia release, a decision was made to isolate the source of the leak while the refrigeration system was still operating instead of initiating an emergency shutdown. Shutting down the refrigeration system may have resulted in a smaller release, since all other ammonia-containing equipment associated with the failed rooftop piping continued to operate. A final key lesson from the CSB’s investigation is that an emergency shutdown should be activated in the event of an ammonia release if a leak cannot be promptly isolated and controlled. Doing so can greatly reduce the amount of ammonia released during an accident.

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating serious chemical accidents. The agency’s board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.

The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Visit our website, www.csb.gov.  For more information, contact public@csb.gov.

Is ALOHA Enough for Emergency Response?

Being active members of the safety community, we hear over and over again “Use the right tool for the job?” This is a mantra in the safety world because we all know that using the wrong tool can be dangerous and, in some cases, fatal. A wrench is not a hammer; a knife is not a screwdriver; a screwdriver is not a chisel.  So when it comes to emergency response, why do some organizations continue to choose the wrong tool for the job?  In a hazardous chemical release, the right tools bring real-time information to you and your team, helping you respond effectively, efficiently, and accurately.

ALOHA is a hazard modeling software, distributed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is used for planning how to respond to potential chemical emergencies. It allows the user to manually input details or estimates about a chemical release and in turn provides an estimated threat zone. While tools like ALOHA do have their uses in response planning, it’s important to note that they only use static data for threat zone modeling. The result of course is a static model.

Trained emergency responders know that conditions are dynamic in a chemical emergency. You cannot rely on weather and gas sensor data from ten minutes ago because conditions change constantly.  When you rely on static data, you’re basing lifesaving emergency response actions on a brief snapshot of a dynamic event.

Decisions need to be made with confidence because the safety and lives of your community members and the people you work with are at stake.  ALOHA is a free download, making it attractive to those looking for solutions to their emergency response needs, but is it really cost free? If the wrong decision is made during an emergency it can end up costing the safety of your staff and your community.

ALOHA Startup Warning:

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As demonstrated above, the limitations of ALOHA reveal its inadequacy as a tool for emergency response in the hazardous materials industry.

Emergency responders can’t control the ever-changing environment in a chemical emergency. It only makes sense that they should use response tools that change along with the conditions and take the guesswork out of plume modeling.

SAFER Systems Launches New Chemical Emergency Response Solution for Water Treatment Facilities

SAFER Systems, the leader in integrated chemical emergency response solutions, has launched SAFER Water Treatment today. SAFER Water Treatment is a new integrated emergency response software solution designed for water treatment facilities to maximize their chemical monitoring and emergency response efforts. The goal of this new solution is to provide a cost effective tool that ensures the safety of staff and community members from the potential release of hazardous chemicals used in water treatment.

Today’s water treatment facilities use a variety of chemicals, such as chlorine, ammonia, and sulfuric acid, to make our drinking water safe for consumption. Those chemicals, while relatively safe in their controlled environment, can be hazardous to the greater community in the event of an accidental loss of containment or a catastrophic event. SAFER Water Treatment is a turnkey software solution for effectively monitoring and managing these potential chemical disasters.

SAFER software solutions are designed to mitigate the impacts of a chemical release before, during, and after an event. SAFER Water Treatment is no exception:

  • Pre-release preparedness – Improve response planning and training exercises while complying with local and federal regulations.
  • Live-release monitoring – Chemical release models automatically update with live data from gas sensors and weather stations providing information for evacuation and saving lives.
  • Post-release analysis – Respond effectively to post-release litigation and improve preparedness for the future with comprehensive model and data archives.

Available as a standalone software installation or as a software and hardware package, SAFER Water Treatment can be seamlessly integrated with a facility’s existing weather or gas sensor system to enable maximum performance and accuracy. All SAFER Water Treatment subscription packages include around the clock expert support and free continuous software updates.

For more information or to purchase SAFER Water Treatment, call (805) 383-9711 or e-mail sales@safersystem.com.

30 Years After Bhopal – How Chemical Release Monitoring and Response Has Evolved

On December 2, 1984, a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India leaked a dense cloud of toxic gas that blanketed the region and exposed over a half million men, women, and children to hazardous chemicals. After killing almost 4,000 people in just the first few days, the toxic cloud went on to leave over 40,000 more people partially or permanently disabled. Thirty years after the disaster many are still suffering from the aftermath and Bhopal is considered one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.

While Bhopal serves as a tragic reminder of the potential danger associated with the handling, storage, and processing of toxic chemicals, it also serves as a tremendous learning experience for the entire industry.  Having a comprehensive chemical release monitoring and response solution is paramount to mitigating or avoiding these disastrous events.

The best chemical release monitoring and response solutions use live data from strategically placed gas sensors and meteorological stations to provide accurate information as the incident unfolds. These comprehensive solutions take into account the terrain of a specific area (including hills, valleys, rivers, etc.), use the live data to create highly accurate plume dispersion models, and automatically update those models as the variables change. By using a response solution based on live data, the path of the Bhopal release could have been accurately predicted, better safety procedures could have been executed, the Bhopal community could have responded quickly and efficiently, and countless lives could have been saved.

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In response to this incident, SAFER Systems developed algorithms that led to the first live chemical release monitoring and response system. These systems use live meteorological, gas sensor, and topographical data to model chemical leaks in real-time so that no matter where or when they occur, emergency response personnel can confidently predict who will be impacted by a chemical release, better analyze the risks associated with specific chemical leaks, and efficiently manage critical response activities.

After 30 years, the Bhopal disaster is still on the minds of industrial safety professionals around the world and serves as a constant reminder that when chemical companies don’t use live data to respond to chemical releases they’re not using the best chemical release response solutions. Learn from the people of Bhopal. Be SAFER.

Contact SAFER Systems today to learn more about our patented software and how it can help ensure the safety of your employees and your community.

Update Released for SAFER Systems’ Advanced Scenario Modeling Software SAFER® TRACE

SAFER Systems, the leader in chemical emergency response, has released today the latest iteration, version 10.2, of its advanced consequence analysis software, SAFER TRACE®.  SAFER TRACE® is engineering grade software used by industrial professionals and risk managers around the world to help assess, understand and reduce chemical risk, and plan for worst case scenarios.  The 10.2 version of SAFER TRACE® contains several new features, enhancements to existing capabilities, streamlined workflows, and bug fixes.

Key among the new features and enhancements, driven by customer interest and historical events are improved vapor cloud explosion modeling for materials such as Ethylene Oxide, and solid chemical explosion modeling capability for materials such as Ammonium Nitrate, and commercial explosives like TNT.

“The improved and enhanced functionality afforded by the improvements that Dr. Shah Khajehnajafi, chief scientist at SAFER Systems, and his team have provided in explosion modeling greatly enhance our site building and explosion hazard safety analysis capability, help improve our customers’ pre-planning efforts where risks exist, help identify and pre-plan evacuation zones and routes as well as safe collection points, and can elevate awareness of the urgency and scale of response required when such threats are identified or developing,“ said Bob Gerow, business manager for Canada at SAFER Systems.

Further enhancing our customer’s capabilities, Exfiltration Modeling, has been added to SAFER TRACE® v10.2.  Exfiltration modeling allows plans to be created for indoor accidental releases and can calculate how long the toxicity is expected to remain at harmful levels throughout an indoor chemical release event.  This model takes into consideration the room size, temperature, and ventilation type and rate to determine the toxic or explosive concentration as well as the exposure curve from point of release to end of event where safe levels are reached.

How Live Data saves lives

Live vs. Static Data – Does one word make a difference?

How important can live weather and gas sensor data really be? Is it all that different from static data? The answer is a resounding yes. Using live data compared to static data can save lives in the event of a chemical emergency and impact the safety of an entire community.

A risk not worth taking

When it comes to protecting their staff and surrounding communities many chemical companies think their practices are up to par. In reality, if chemical companies are not using live weather and gas detection readings when responding to emergencies they’re not using the best chemical emergency response solutions. If they don’t use the best response solutions then how can they make the best decisions about who to evacuate or shelter-in-place and what road closures to enforce.

Multiple factors impact the distance and direction of travel when a chemical is released. Static data alone cannot model how the chemical will disperse as accurately as needed. The best chemical release monitoring and response solutions use live data from strategically placed gas sensors and meteorological stations to provide accurate information as the incident unfolds. These comprehensive solutions take into account the terrain of a specific area (including hills, valleys, rivers, etc.), use the live data to create highly accurate plume dispersion models, and automatically update those models as the variables change. As seen in the video below, a company can unknowingly harm an entire community without the proper data readings.

According to the Emergency Response Plan, the chemical release, which was based on static weather data, was only predicted to impact a small part of the community. With live weather and gas sensor data, a company has the ability to pick up on a wind shift and subsequent changes in gas sensor readings as the chemical disperses. Taking into account an elevated ridgeline in addition to the wind shift, the plume is accurately modeled and can be used to execute a tactical emergency response based on what’s happening as its happening.

With live data, an emergency can be effectively responded to and an evacuation and safety plan can be shared with staff and the surrounding community. Additionally, a company is able to do its due diligence and report accurate data about the chemical release as required by local and federal regulations. Aside from the safety of the community, a company is able to protect itself and uphold an honorable reputation.

Great, so what else is live data good for?

Live data is helpful in conducting live training exercises in preparation for worst case scenarios as well as responding effectively in the midst of an emergency, but can it be of any use afterwards too? Absolutely. When live data is archived, it becomes extremely useful for post-event analysis and in response to litigation. If a community member feels they were harmed due to a chemical release, a company is able to defend itself using historical data. With an archive of real-time comprehensive data, a company can model and demonstrate the distance and direction of travel of a released chemical definitively proving and displaying whether or not the chemical ever reached their location. Aside from the company being protected from such claims, the citizen is also able to investigate other explanations as to the cause of their claims.

So one word DOES make a difference!

When it comes to the safety of a community and reputation of a company, using dispersion models based on live data is the best and only way to go. Geographical location, complex terrain, constant weather changes, and unpredictable chemical releases have an enormous impact on chemical plume behavior. So when it becomes a matter of life or death, the choice is simple. Choose life. Be SAFER.