Washington, DC, June 30, 2006 - The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) announced it is releasing detailed trailer blast damage information developed during the ongoing investigation of the March 23, 2005, explosions at the BP refinery in Texas City, Texas. The information was posted to the agency's website, CSB.gov, and also provided to the American Petroleum Institute (API), the trade organization that is working to develop new guidance on the safe placement of trailers and similar temporary structures used in the oil and chemical industry.
The accident at BP killed 15 workers and injured about 180 others when flammable liquid and vapor overfilled a blowdown drum during the startup of the refinery's isomerization unit. All of the fatalities and many of the injuries occurred in and around trailers that had been positioned near the isomerization unit to support maintenance activities on adjacent refinery units.
The data released today include details of the injuries and structural damage that occurred among some 44 different trailers that were located in the vicinity of the isomerization unit. The fifteen fatalities occurred in or near two trailers that were located 121 to 136 feet from the blowdown drum. Occupants were injured in trailers as far away as 479 feet from the drum. Damage was noted in trailers almost 1000 feet away.
On October 25, 2005, the CSB issued an urgent recommendation to the API to develop new industry guidance "to ensure the safe placement of occupied trailers and similar temporary structures away from hazardous areas of process plants." The API announced it would begin work on the new guidance and convened a committee of industry representatives that has since met several times.
The Board's urgent safety recommendation called on the industry to establish minimum safe distances for trailers away from hazardous process areas. The CSB noted that, for reasons of convenience, trailers are often placed close to refinery units during maintenance activities. Unlike permanent structures such as control rooms, trailers can easily be relocated to safer positions.
"The information we made public today underscores just how vulnerable trailers are to serious blast damage. Placing trailers where there is a possibility of explosion poses an unacceptable risk to occupants," said Board Member John S. Bresland. "At a distance of 597 feet from the source of the flammable vapor, the roof of one trailer collapsed and its walls were heavily damaged. Modest explosion overpressures that would cause no significant harm to a modern blast-resistant refinery control room can devastate a trailer."
"We are providing our findings to the American Petroleum Institute to help expedite the development of new guidance that is based on the best available science and provides adequate protection for industry workers," Mr. Bresland stated.
Following the tragic accident in March 2005, BP developed a new corporate trailer siting policy that provides exclusion zones for areas where explosions are possible. The BP policy states that all occupied trailers should be located outside of vulnerable areas even if this means a location outside the site boundary. A large number of Texas City personnel were relocated to a permanent building away from the refinery.
Board investigators issued preliminary findings about the accident at a public meeting in Texas City on October 27, 2005. The Board's final report on the root causes of the accident at BP is expected to be released before the end of the year.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. 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 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, regulations, and industry standards. Visit our website www.csb.gov.
For more information, contact Director of Public Affairs Dr. Daniel Horowitz at (202) 261-7613 or (202) 441-6074 (cell).