CSB explosion report urgesimproved safety standards

A US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) case study on the 2009 explosion and fire at the Veolia ES Technical Solutions LLC facility in West Carrollton OH calls on the industry to improve safety standards covering hazardous waste processing, handling, and storage facilities. The board also recommended that fire protection codes be revised to require companies to determine safe distances between occupied buildings and potentially hazardous operating areas.

The accident occurred May 4, 2009, when flammable vapor was released from a waste recycling process, ignited, and violently exploded. The blast seriously injured two workers and damaged 20 nearby residences and five businesses. CSB investigators found that the north wall of the lab and operations building—where the victims were injured—was less than 30 feet from the waste recycling processing area where the flammable vapor was released.

CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said, “This accident should not have happened. Our report notes that OSHA cited the company for inadequate attention to process safety management practices in the handling of flammable liquids. But in case of an accident, I believe it is absolutely critical that buildings at chemical facilities be sited safe distances from process equipment to maximize the safety of workers. We are making recommendations that would help ensure that operating areas with occupied buildings such as control rooms be sufficiently separated from process areas containing flammable liquids and gases that have the potential to explode.”

The board issued a recommendation to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), which develops codes and standards for industry, urging NFPA to require companies to perform engineering analyses to determine safe separation distances between buildings occupied by administrative and other personnel not essential to process operations, and buildings housing the potentially hazardous process equipment.

The CSB also revised a previous recommendation to the Environmental Technology Council, a hazardous waste industry trade group, to petition the NFPA to develop a standard specific to hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities. This would include guidance on reducing the likelihood of fires, explosions, and releases of hazardous waste.

The board also issued recommendations to Veolia, which is rebuilding the plant. The CSB called on the company to restrict occupancy in buildings in close proximity to the operating plant to personnel trained in the safe operation and orderly shutdown of the plant. The board also called on the Center for Chemical Process Safety, a division of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, to revise control room siting guidelines to address the characteristics of all Class 1B flammable liquids.

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