October, 2002

This is a repeating event

200213OctAll DayFirst Chemical Reactive Chemical Explosion 2002First Chemical Corp. Pascagoula (US-MS) Origin: CSB Lessons:Asset integrity,Control of Work,Emergency Preparedness,Risk Assessment,Stakeholder EngagementIndustry:PetrochemicalsCountry:United StatesLanguage:ENLoC:Confined explosion TagsRelief Systems

Summary

The rupture of a 145-foot-tall distillation column (C-501) used to refine mononitrotoluene (MNT) caused the October 13, 2002, explosion and fire at the First Chemical Corporation (FCC) facility in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The column was thought to be isolated and in standby mode at the time of the explosion (approximately 5:25 am) though it contained a significant amount of MNT.

Debris from the explosion, including metal fragments and packing from the column, was scattered throughout the facility and propelled offsite. One large fragment of the distillation column punctured a nearby para-MNT storage tank and ignited its contents, which burned for almost 3 hours. A 6-ton column segment was hurled 1,100 feet and landed near a crude oil storage tank at a refinery across the highway. Flying glass injured three FCC employees, who were in the unit control room at the time of the explosion. All three employees received first-aid, and one required additional medical treatment.

The FCC fire brigade fought the onsite fires, including the large para-MNT storage tank fire and numerous fires initiated by burning material on ejected column packing. Local community emergency responders provided backup and firefighting support for numerous small fires outside the facility. The sheriff’s department provided traffic control. FCC personnel, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Coast Guard monitored the air around the facility.

KEY ISSUES:
• EVALUATION OF REACTIVE HAZARDS
• APPLYING LESSONS LEARNED
• LAYERS OF PROTECTION
• WORK PRACTICES
• FACILITY SITING
• COMMUNITY NOTIFICATION

ROOT CAUSES:
1. The FCC Pascagoula facility did not have an adequate system for evaluating the hazards of processing mononitrotoluene (MNT) in its continuous process and did not apply lessons learned from hazard analyses conducted on similar processes in the plant.
2. FCC did not have a system to ensure that the #1 MNT column (C-501) was equipped with sufficient layers of protection to prevent a catastrophic release.
3. The Pascagoula facility had no effective system for ensuring consistent work practices when isolating equipment.
4. FCC did not have an adequate program to prevent leakage from isolation valves in the steam line connected to the #1 MNT column (C-501).


Image Credit: CSB

Origin

CSBUS Chemical Safety Board

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