Home Podcasts THMG153 – Acrolein, Part II

THMG153 – Acrolein, Part II


In this episode, Mike and Bob wrap up their discussion of acrolein by reviewing three interesting case studies.

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Complete Show Notes

3:50 Case Study #1 – The Dangers of Acrolein Inhalation

  • In 1999, an applicator accidentally ran over and damaged parts of the delivery system, which spilled a few gallons of acrolein
  • He proceeded to close off the cylinder valve of the delivery system without putting on personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • He then washed himself off in the canal and traveled to the hospital, where he was treated and released
  • He was later found unconscious in his home and died the next day

4:50 Case Study #2 – The Dangers of Acrolein Ingestion

  • In 2007, an applicator was sprayed directly in the face with acrolein that was under pressure after he attempted to tighten a connection in the delivery system
  • An initial evaluation showed signs of respiratory distress, so he was immediately transported to a medical center for treatment
  • Despite this treatment, the individual died within several days

5:40 Case Study #3 – The Mother of All Acrolein Case Studies

  • In 1982, rainwater was believed to have made its way into a tank containing over 480,000 pounds of acrolein
  • When the tank blew and caught fire, it also set fire to other nearby acrolein tanks – tank burned for almost 24 hours before the fire died out
  • No effort was made to put the fire out since the poisonous product was being consumed by the fire itself
  • A total of 5 surrounding towns around Taft (only 30 miles from New Orleans) were evacuated until the extent of the contamination was determined – this was almost 17,000 people total
  • This area has around 15 massive industrial sites and a nuclear power plant – at the time of the incident, they were said to have the highest concentration of NH3 in the free world
  • Also subject to a variety of hazmat incidents over the years – chlorine gas leaks, manufacturing plant explosions, hurricanes, train derailments, pipelines, etc.
  • Timeline:
    • Around 9 PM on Friday the 10th, workers at the facility started to get indications that the acrolein was heating up
    • At 11 PM, the company started to evacuate the area of the plant that contained the tanks
    • At around 12 AM, the local parish sheriff’s office was notified, but it was classified as a low-level non-emergency – controller who called actually told the office they had it under control and that it wasn’t an issue
    • The person who received the call checked a hazardous materials manual regarding the nature of acrolein and tried to contact the EOC director, who was out of town – instead, they talked about the situation with their supervisor
    • Upon receiving calls about sirens in the area, the sheriff’s department called the hotline – the phone rang, but nobody answered
    • Around this time, the sheriff’s office started getting calls from individual citizens asking about evacuation routes and shelters – these people had been previously contacted by relatives who worked at Union Carbide and were evacuated from the plant
    • The two officers on duty were soon swamped with numerous phone calls, which was the first indication received by any public emergency organization that there might be a far more serious situation than suggested by the first message from the plant
    • At 12:50 AM, the tank in the plant exploded, and a fire erupted – noise was heard more than five miles away and mistaken for thunder
    • Some windows broke in Norco (around 1.5 miles away), and more than 400 claims were filed for property damage
    • The greatest number of claims against Union Carbide the week after the explosion were for motel expenses or lost wages – one person said the explosion cracked the concrete foundation under his house and fire alarms went off everywhere
    • By 1:30 AM, 130 of the surrounding parishes started to activate their EOCs
    • Around 2 AM, the plant told officials there was no danger to the public
    • But at 4:22 AM, the plant manager recommended the evacuation of all persons within a five mile radius of the plant
    • They said this decision was reached because the other five tanks near the fire contained sufficiently large amounts of acrolein to create an even greater explosion than had already occurred and that a chain reaction was possible
    • This was apparently the first time local public authorities were told about the additional tanks and the danger they posed
  • The distance of five miles was selected based on technical knowledge of what could occur, but with a leaning to “err on the side of safety” – there was very little wind at the time, but it could arise in any direction
  • As it turned out, those implementing the evacuation did not accept the five mile radius as a minimum
  • While the ERG suggests three miles as a starting point, it’s important to be flexible and constantly reevaluate the situation
  • This location was near the Mississippi River, but nobody notified the Coast Guard until hours later
  • Moral of the story: no matter how prepared you think you are, there are always things you’re going to miss – run your local drills, run your own exercises, and create your own protocols

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