The massive December 2007 explosion and fire at T2 Laboratories in Jacksonville, Fla., was caused by a runaway chemical reaction that likely resulted from an inadequate reactor cooling system, investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) said in a final report.
Concluding that T2 did not recognize all of the potential hazards of the process for making a gasoline additive, the report calls for improving the education of chemical engineering students on reactive chemical hazards.
The explosion and fire on Dec. 19, 2007, killed four T2 employees and injured four others. In addition, 28 people working at nearby businesses were injured when building walls and windows blew in. The blast sent debris up to a mile away and damaged buildings within a quarter-mile of the facility.
“This is one of the largest reactive chemical accidents the CSB has investigated,” said Chairman John Bresland. “We hope our findings once again call attention to the need for companies to be aware of how to control reactive chemical hazards.”
In 2002 the CSB completed a study of reactive chemical hazards, which identified 167 accidents over a two-decade period and made recommendations to improve reactive chemical safety.
The report on the T2 Laboratories explosion calls on the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) to include reactive chemical education in baccalaureate chemical engineering curricula across the country.
The CSB found that although the two owners of the company had undergraduate degrees in chemistry and chemical engineering, they were nonetheless likely unaware of the potential or the consequences of a runaway chemical reaction. The CSB noted that most baccalaureate chemical engineering curricula in the U.S. do not specifically address reactive hazard recognition or management.
“It’s important that chemical engineers recognize and are aware of the proper management of reactive hazards,” said Bresland.
The accident occurred during T2’s production of MCMT, a gasoline additive, which the company manufactured in batches using a 2500-gallon reactor. On the day of the accident T2 was producing its 175th batch of the chemical when operators reported a cooling problem.
According to Hall, T2 failed to recognize the underlying runaway reaction hazard associated with its manufacturing process “despite a number of near-misses during earlier production efforts.”
Chemical testing by the CSB found that the recipe used by T2 created two exothermic, or heat-producing, reactions; the first was an intended part of producing MCMT but the second, undesired reaction occurred if the temperature went above 390ºF, slightly higher than the normal production temperature. The cooling system likely malfunctioned due to a blockage in the water supply piping or a valve failure. The temperature and pressure inside the reactor began to rise uncontrollably in a runaway chemical reaction. At 1:33 pm, approximately 10minutes after the initial cooling problem was reported, the reactor burst and its contents exploded.
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations.
Was this article valuable?
Here are more articles you may enjoy.