Design Flaw Allegedly Causes Industrial Tank Explosion


Engineering ExpertThis case involves a man that was killed after being hit with boiling, acidic liquid. The man was draining an industrial-sized storage tank when a plug broke loose. The resulting pressure caused a stream of boiling hot liquid to shoot out. The plaintiff was hit with liquid in the chest area and suffered severe burns. Although he was immediately taken to the hospital for treatment, he died as a result of his injuries. The system the plaintiff was working on was clogged and the clog had to be cleared, but there was no way to isolate the energy presented by massive heat and pressure in the closed system. An expert in the design and operation of hot water tanks was sought to determine whether the design of the water tank system was faulty.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Do you have extensive experience with similar liquid systems to the one that potentially malfunctioned in this case?
  • 2. Can you speak comfortably to the proper design and operation of industrial storage tanks?

Expert Witness Response E-022418

Expert-ID: E-022418

I am very familiar with water tanks and water heaters and have reviewed cases similar in scope to this. I would be able to determine if there was a design flaw with this clog or if perhaps the system was maintained poorly or too infrequently. I am an expert in Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosions (BLEVE). Although normally associated with accidents involving flammable liquids like propane, a BLEVE can occur in a pressurized hot water tank in which only hot water and steam are released. A BLEVE occurs when superheated water (at elevated temperature and pressure compared to atmospheric conditions) is released through what may start as a relatively small fracture in the vessel. The explosive power comes from the 1600 times expansion of superheated water as a portion of the superheated water flashes to steam at atmospheric pressure. I have conducted quite a bit of hands-on training and research with systems such as this one.

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