Poor Industrial Hygiene Causes Chemical Plant Explosion


Industrial Products ExpertThis case involves several explosions that occurred at a chemical plant in Michigan. A dangerous rainstorm forced the plant’s employees to evacuate the facility, leaving behind hazardous and toxic chemicals with no supervision. These chemicals required refrigeration, and the lack of refrigeration was known to cause the chemicals to break down and ignite. Despite the fact that the facility had experienced flooding before, the plant’s safety managers failed to adequately prepare for backup refrigeration of those chemicals in the event of a power outage. Within 72 hours of the facility evacuation, there were 2 major explosions. Residents in the nearby area suffered from serious bodily injuries as a result of inhaling toxic fumes.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Please describe your experience in environmental hygiene, specifically as it relates to chemical plants.
  • 2. What is the standard of care in terms of safety procedures when a chemical plant is located in a hurricane-prone and flood-prone location?
  • 3. What steps should be taken when evacuating a plant that contains chemicals that require refrigeration to prevent them from igniting?

Expert Witness Response E-169813

I have extensive experience in chemical safety at refineries and specialize in process safety. OSHA has a standard in terms of safety procedures for chemical plants (OSHA 29 CFR 1910.119, Process Safety Management of Hazardous Chemicals). OSHA Publication 3122 Principal Emergency Response and Preparedness discusses the emergency response and preparedness standards such chemical plants must follow. A chemical plant with hazardous chemicals at risk of igniting should have flood, fire, and hurricane protected backup power generations that are not prone to flooding. The fact that this plant 1.) had previously been cited for improper safety procedures, 2.) did not have backup generators, and 3.) left the chemicals un-refrigerated is, to be quite frank, ridiculous to me. I would be able to review the plant’s preparedness and prevention plan and opine on how it fails to meet OSHA standards.

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