22 Spray October 2015 Steven CharleS hunt President, ShipMate, Inc. From here to there: Topics in Transportation Reflecting on “Extremely Profound Lessons” The terrible tragedy that occurred last August in Tianjin, China highlights the need for companies to take a critical (but careful) look at the storage and handling of hazardous materials within their manufacturing sites and warehouses. Rapid growth, lack of oversight and lax safety procedures are being blamed for the blasts that killed more than 150 people and injured hundreds of others. Additionally, there are growing concerns regarding the extent and level of soil and water contamination that may have long lasting negative consequences for the environment. A number of reports suggest that hundreds of metric tons of flammable gas, water reactive chemicals, toxic solids, strong acids, flammable liquids and perhaps even high explosives may have been stored in the port complex. Calcium carbide, which was reported to have been stored in large quantities at the Rui Hai International Logistics warehouse, is water-reactive and produces highly flammable acetylene gas. The facility also stored as much as 700 tons of sodium cyanide, a highly toxic solid which, when mixed with strong acids, reacts rapidly to create hydrogen cyanide, an extremely toxic gas. Although the exact cause of the initial and subsequent blasts are not known, chemical incompatibility, coupled with an excessive quantity of dangerous substances stored in the warehouses and port facilities, may be the culprit. If not the cause, it certainly worsened the disaster. “Extremely Profound Lessons” China’s President Xi Jinping has urged Chinese safety officials to learn “extremely profound lessons” from this and other accidents. Perhaps we should heed his advice as well. The loss of so many lives should cause us to reflect on the lessons to be learned. Unfortunately, many of these lessons are learned the hard way. Do you remember the Bhopal Incident or what happened on board ValuJet Flight 592? How about more obscure incidents such as the 1982 K-Mart fire in Falls Township, NJ? Granted, the readers of this article are probably not shipping or storing highly toxic solids, water-reactive materials or even corrosive liquids. More likely than not, however, readers will use or store highly flammable liquids or flammable gases under pressure. As such, an accident of this magnitude is extremely unlikely, but aerosols and flammable liquids can be dangerous nonetheless. Therefore, I suggest that aerosol manufacturers, distributors and storage facilities take a hard look at their operations, equipment and practices. Are you prepared? Are you properly equipped? Do you store quantities of compressed gases and flammable liquids in excess of that amount allowed by the fire marshal? Do you have adequate fire protection? Are incompatible materials stored in close proximity to your goods? Have your fire alarms, equipment and gas house protection devices been properly inspected and calibrated? Companies are urged to closely review their Tier II chemical inventory, review and exercise their Emergency Response Plans, conduct a detailed fire and life safety audit of their facility and draft a Housekeeping Plan or Chemical Management Plan if not done already. Readers are also urged to review the requirements of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 30B as well. For example, NFPA 30B requires segregated storage of Level Two and Three aerosols in general purpose warehouses, special fencing around these materials, separation from other combustible materials, sprinkler systems that extend beyond the storage area, automatic self-closing doors and other requirements to prevent a dangerous chemical reaction or fire and to control it, if one does occur. State fire codes, the International Building Code and NFPA 30B include provisions for the storage and display of aerosols. The explosions at the Port of Tianjin, which began Aug. 12, resulted in over 150 deaths and several hundred injuries. Cleanup efforts remain ongoing.
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