A U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) case study released yesterday on the 2009 explosion and fire at the Veolia ES Technical Solutions L.L.C. facility in West Carrollton, Ohio, calls on the industry to improve safety standards covering hazardous waste processing, handling, and storage facilities. The Board also recommended that fire protection codes be revised to require companies to determine safe distances between occupied buildings and potentially hazardous operating areas.

The accident occurred on May 4, 2009, when flammable vapor was released from a waste recycling process, ignited, and violently exploded. The blast seriously injured two workers and damaged 20 nearby residences and five businesses. CSB investigators found that the north wall of the lab and operations building – where the victims were injured – was less than 30 feet from the waste recycling processing area where the flammable vapor was released.

CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said, “This accident should not have happened. Our report notes that OSHA cited the company for inadequate attention to process safety management practices in the handling of flammable liquids. But in case of an accident, I believe it is absolutely critical that buildings at chemical facilities be sited safe distances from process equipment to maximize the safety of workers. We are making recommendations that would help ensure that operating areas with occupied buildings such as control rooms be sufficiently separated from process areas containing flammable liquids and gases that have the potential to explode.”

CSB lead investigator Johnnie Banks said, “At the time of the shutdown, witnesses reported hearing the sound of a sudden, loud vapor release and smelling a very strong odor of THF solvent which knocked several employees to their knees. It was a matter of just a couple of minutes until the highly flammable vapor ignited.”

The vapor drifted to the laboratory and operations building and found an ignition source inside the building. A worker in the control room reported being enveloped in a fireball that went through the building. The first explosion knocked over a bank of lockers, severely injuring an employee and pinning him underneath.