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5 Major Chemical Facility Fires that Captured Headlines in 20215 Major Chemical Facility Fires that Captured Headlines in 2021
Powder & Bulk Solids reviews some of the biggest fire and explosion safety incidents at chemical industry sites across the country.
March 29, 2022
Industrial fires and explosions are a constant risk for facilities that manufacture, store, and distribute chemicals. While many chemical companies go to great lengths to protect the safety of their employees and assets, incidents can and do occur every year.
Powder & Bulk Solids editors compiled this list of some of the most notable fires and explosions in US chemical facilities during 2021 to provide insight into the hazards that chemical manufacturers and chemical distributors face daily, as well as the consequences of these events.
A fire broke out at the Sartomer Americas chemical plant at the Tightsqueeze Industrial Park in Chatham, VA in late March, creating a “chemical smoke cloud” that forced residents near the site to shelter in place and led to evacuations at a high school. Sartomer’s parent company, Arkema, issued a statement to a local Fox News affiliate that said the incident involved an overheated acrylic product.
“The product was stored inside of a building in drums, when the contents of one of the drums overheated, which caused a polymerization reaction. Essentially, that means the small building blocks formed into long chain-like molecules known as polymers. This reaction has given off heat, which caused overheating and polymerization in some of the adjacent drums,” Arkema said to Fox News affiliate WFXR.
No injuries or offsite impacts occurred during the incident.
A two-alarm blaze broke out in early April at the K-Solv chemical distribution complex in Channelview, TX as product was being transferred between drums. A local ABC News affiliate said smoke from the fire was so dense it could be seen on doppler radar.
During the response, some homes and businesses were told to shelter-in-place while efforts to assess any potential environmental issues were underway. An environmental advocacy organization later released information to the Houston Chronicle showing over 40 air contaminants were released during the blaze.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that the fire started in a tanker truck, and then flames spread to an adjacent tank holding xylene. A trucker later filed a lawsuit for injuries they sustained during the incident.
Emergency personnel responded to the Kureha PGA LLC chemical unit at the Chemours complex in Belle, WV in late July after equipment exploded during maintenance work.
“This morning around 8:40 a.m. at the area of the Kureha plant in Belle, WV, furnace or vent equipment exploded,” Kanawha County Emergency Management & Floodplain Management posted to its Facebook page shortly after the incident. “Plant officials report no chemicals involved and no injuries.”
The equipment involved in the blast is used for process heating. Ductwork inside the plant was damaged during the incident.
“The equipment was being serviced by the equipment vendor at the time of the failure and the plant was not in operation at the time,” the company said in a statement to WVMetroNews.com. “As a precaution, the site alarm was sounded and surrounding community was asked to shelter in place.”
Kureha PGA manufactures PGA resin at the location.
Dover Chemical Corp.
In June, firefighters were sent to the Dover Chemical Corp. plant in Dover, OH when a large blaze ignited in the middle of a building at the site. During the response, firefighters worked to prevent the flames from spreading to two other buildings and a railcar. The location of the fire was in a 25 ft by 25 ft structure near a large piece of machinery.
“As a result of the fire a process in the plant was disrupted and caused a hydrochloric acid release. The HCL vapor was mostly contained on plant property but a light breeze did carry some vapor over I-77,” the fire department wrote. “As a result, I-77 was shut down for about two hours. The breeze was light and the humid air helped to keep most of the release on plant property.”
Officials said no one was hurt. Some homes and businesses near the facility were told to shelter in place during the response.
The explosion and fire at the Lubrizol-owned Chemtool lubricants production plant in Rockton, IL on June 14 was the most newsworthy incident of the year. A local official told The Associated Press (AP) that about 1,000 people were evacuated during the incident. One firefighter received minor injuries.
Chief Kirk Wilson detailed during the investigation that a project to replace insulation on an elevated heat transfer piping network was underway at the time of the incident. The pipes carried heated mineral oil to heat certain vessels used to provide lubricating greases.
“That morning, an employee of an outside contractor performing the insulation replacement project was working in the area of origin. They were utilizing a scissor lift to access the elevated heat transfer piping network,” the official wrote. “Shortly before 07:00 hours while the employee of the outside contractor was working in the area, a release occurred from the elevated piping. An unknown amount of mineral oil immediately began filling and pooling on the floor in the area of origin.”
Plant staff identified the leak and shut down the boiler, and were engaged in placing containment booms and de-pressuring the pipes when the blaze started.
“At the present time, the most credible scenario is that the scissor lift struck a valve or other piece of piping with sufficient mechanical force to cause the release of mineral oil,” Rockton Fire said. “The investigation has not yet determined the source of ignition.”
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