Monday, April 29, 2013


TEXAS CITY DISASTER 

Another case of explosion with Ammonium Nitrate Fertilizer





One of the biggest disasters in this cursed city, the Texas City which is a busy deepwater port on Texas' Gulf Coast, as well as a petroleum refining and petrochemical manufacturing centre. Being a major destination for chemical companies this city has been prone to many disasters of which the one that occurred on the 16th April 1947 left a big hole in the history of chemical industry.

This date is almost 2 years after nuclear explosion in Japan by USA, 1 day after India achieved its Independence and 2 days after Pakistan got independence. The gruesome terror was bestowed on this unfortunate city by a French ship named Grandcamp which was laden with Ammonium Nitrate based fertilizer.

The Accident, as it happened

The ship was docked in port of Texas City and was loaded with approximately 2300 tons with Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer. In the morning at 8:15 am smoke was observed to be coming out from the lower decks. Attempts were made to arrest this fire using drinking water and hand fire extinguishers but flames were seen to be increased. At this moment the fire dosing pumps were ready to use the water but the second captain ordered not to use water in order to save the cargo. But after 15 minutes when the smoke continued to come out, the fire department was called in. But the pressures continued to build and at 9:12 am the man-made disaster unleashed its fury. A fury that is considered to be one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions! The first explosion killed everyone in the blast radius implicating the maximum fatalities of around 400.

The chemical plant of Monsanto was engulfed in fires that originated from the blast and it literally burned this plant to ashes. To add to the misery, another ship named SS High Flyer, in dock for repairs and also carrying ammonium nitrate, was ignited by the first explosion; it was towed 100 feet from the docks before it exploded about sixteen hours later, at 1:10 A.M. on April 17.



Refineries and oil storage tanks of the Monsanto chemical plant burn in the waterfront area 

in Texas City, Texas, April 16, 1947



Consequences of this accident

In all, the explosions killed 581 and injured over 5,000 people. The monetary losses are pegged at 1.03 billion dollars.

The SS Wilson B. Keene, destroyed in the disaster's second explosion



Lessons learnt from this accident


This accident is referred to worst disaster in American history and naturally it left a big mark. The reasons are more or less the same that can happen even today but it is more about the best practices that can be learnt from disasters of this scale.

Below are the reasons that lead to the accident and are also in a sense the lessons learnt regarding the handling and shipping of ammonium nitrate fertilizers are as follows:

1) All containers shall be tight. No leaking or shifting containers or containers that give the evidence of leaking or shifting shall be placed on board the vessel.
2) Shipper is required to give written notification in advance to the vessel regarding the characters tics of a dangerous cargo.
3) No smoking is allowed during loading operations.
4) In case of fire, e, immediate application of water in large quantities is probably the best procedure, even though a large water loss may result, as the ammonium nitrate is highly soluble in water.
5) Gas masks should be worn by fire fighters, as the oxides of nitrogen are toxic.
6) Packaging should be in metal drums or tight wooden casks to prevent accidental spillage
7) Handling in transit should be done as carefully as in storage.
8) Strict control over prevention of contamination of fertilizer with acids, oxidizing compounds.


Sources



8 comments:

  1. The blog is easy to read and understand.
    For improvement,
    I think that you should also provide the information on what government and the company do to recover from this disaster.
    For example, to eliminate chemical that already leak to enviroment.
    Additionally,it should include what should each company do to prevent the disaster like this (Preventive action).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your observations Pimook.

      As far as your second point is concerned, we have already tried to incorporate the lessons learnt from the accidents. These are best practices or the standards that should be met so that a similar accident doesn't happen.

      As far as your first point goes, the aim of this blog is to learn more about an accident especially about lessons learnt. Hence, we didn't talk about post recovery; however you can find more information on the links we shared. But the thing is the companies will always participate in clean-ups and government will always make more stringent laws. So in all cases you will find either of the two things happen, firstly the site is shut down indefinitely or the company starts to rehabilitate after all kinds of compensations.

      I hope this reply answers to all your questions.

      Thanks

      Project team

      Delete
  2. Ammonium nitrate disasters have occurred previous to this. When I was a student half a century ago, we had a project concerning NH4NO3 manufacture. On researching the background I discovered there had been a pre-war explosion of bulk solid NH4NO3, and this was as I recall linked to the creation of the TVA (Tenesee Valley Authority.) Clearly the lessons were not learned. As I recall it ammonium nitrate being an explosive, is hazardous when stored in bulk. The obvious precautions are a) do not store it in bulk and b) add explosion suppressants before it leaves the factory.

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