Baton Rouge, LA, March 30, 2004 - Investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) today provided a community update on the ongoing investigations into three accidents that occurred at Honeywell International in East Baton Rouge Parish over a 24-day period last summer.
The information was prepared for presentation at a CSB community briefing tonight at the Leo S. Butler Community Center in East Baton Rouge Parish, with CSB Board Member Dr. Gerald Poje presiding, joined by Board Member Rixio Medina. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at 950 East Washington Street, Baton Rouge, LA 70802.
INCIDENT 1: CHLORINE RELEASE INCIDENT - July 20, 2003
Investigator Lisa Long reported that the chlorine release on July 20, 2003, which injured eight Honeywell employees with four of them hospitalized, was caused by a failure of a chlorine cooler, which allowed liquid chlorine to enter the refrigerant system.
Ms. Long said chlorine gas escaped through a hole in a chlorine cooler tube. Ms. Long reported that operators first detected the release at 3:05 a.m. Local authorities activated a siren system at 4 a.m. advising residents to remain in their homes for safety. Ms. Long said, "The company attempted to contain the release by spraying the chlorine cloud with water, but it was not until 7 a.m. that the all-clear signal was given."
Ms. Long reported that Honeywell's testing of chlorine levels, beginning at 5:30 a.m., found concentrations of 1.2 parts per million parts of air (ppm). Concentrations of 1 to 3 ppm can cause mucous membrane irritation; much higher concentrations cause chest pains and death. By 7 a.m. the company reported concentrations below 0.35 ppm, (zero-point-thirty-five ppm).
INCIDENT 2: ANTIMONY PENTACHLORIDE RELEASE INCIDENT - July 29, 2003
Investigator Mike Morris reported that a worker, Delvin S. Henry, was fatally injured after he was sprayed with spent, or used, antimony pentachloride (pronounced ANT-imony penta CHLOR-ide) on July 29, 2003, a highly corrosive chemical that can cause serious chemical burns and lung damage.
The operator was engaged in an operation to prepare large used refrigerant cylinders for off-site testing. Five years earlier, the cylinder, originally labeled as antimony pentachloride, had been relabeled as a refrigerant before shipping it to the Baton Rouge plant. The re-labeling was performed by a specialty company in Denver after consulting with Honeywell operators in California.
Though he had worked in the plant for about 3 years, the operator was new to this particular job, and evidently believed all of the cylinders he was working with were empty or contained only small amounts of refrigerant and were labeled as such.
Unable to properly purge, or clear, the contents of one of these cylinders by hooking up hoses to the cylinder's drain valves, the operator removed a plug from the back of the cylinder. The spent antimony pentachloride sprayed out under pressure, enveloping the operator, resulting in his death the next day.
INCIDENT 3: HYDROFLUORIC ACID SPRAY INCIDENT - Aug. 13, 2003
CSB Investigator Johnnie Banks reported that the Honeywell plant had been rapidly shut down following the July 20, 2003, chlorine accident. After the July 29 incident the company ordered the facility to remain shut down until procedures and equipment could be checked to ensure the facility could be operated safely. On Aug. 13, liquid hydrofluoric acid, known in the industry as HF, splashed onto a worker.
The rapid shutdown after July 20 had left significant amounts of the HF, a colorless chemical that can quickly destroy human tissue, in an internal piping system. A decision was made to remove it. Operators began draining it into a sewer through a one-inch pipe where flowing water siphoned the HF into the wastewater sewer system.
On Aug. 13, the system was suspected of being clogged, and an operator opened and closed two valves in an attempt to clear the blockage. The operator then reopened the valves, resulting in a pressure surge that ran through the one-inch pipe, called a "venturi stick."
Pressurized by nitrogen, hydrofluric acid and water escaped from the sewer, splashing onto the worker. CSB investigators found the pipe had not been properly secured, and was suspended by a single rope.
The operator was aided by a maintenance supervisor, who experienced a coughing spell from the fumes. The operator was treated and released at the local hospital; the maintenance supervisor was released from the hospital the next day.
Ms. Long said her investigation team will continue to gather information and analyze several areas of interest, such as the company's hazard evaluation process, plant safety programs and community notification issues.
In prepared remarks for the community meeting, Dr. Poje said, "These incidents, three in a row in a period of less than four weeks, show the need for continuing safety vigilance at chemical plants and other facilities where potentially dangerous chemicals are processed. While this investigation is not complete, I emphasize the need for chemical companies to constantly review their processes, and I would urge chemical facilities, local authorities and neighborhood groups to work together to ensure that notification and emergency response systems are in order."
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in safety management systems. Typically, the investigations involve extensive witness interviews, examination of physical evidence, and chemical and forensic testing.
The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. The Board designates formal responses to its recommendations as acceptable or unacceptable, open or closed. Further information about the CSB is available from www.csb.gov. For more information, please contact Sandy Gilmour who will be in Baton Rouge March 30 at 202-251-5496 (cell). In Washington, contact Daniel Horowitz, 202-261-7613 / 202-441-6074 (cell).