Chemical Safety Board releases report on fatal methanol tank explosion

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released its final report of an investigation into the fatal methanol tank explosion at the Bethune Point wastewater treatment plant in Daytona Beach, FL. The report lists a number of recommendations to help prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future, including a call for the Water Environment Federation and the Methanol Institute to work together to promote methanol safety at wastewater treatment facilities...

TALLAHASSEE, FL, March 13, 2007 - Today, in Tallahassee, Florida, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released their final report of an investigation into the fatal methanol tank explosion at the Bethune Point wastewater treatment plant in Daytona Beach, Fla. The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents.

The report lists a number of recommendations to help prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future, including a call for the Water Environment Federation and the Methanol Institute to work together to promote methanol safety at wastewater treatment facilities. Many wastewater plants add methanol to accelerate the biodegradation of excess nitrogen, and reduce nitrogen-loading of sensitive aquifers from plant effluent. Excess nitrogen flowing from wastewater facilities contributes to an over-growth of algae which can lead to hypoxia (oxygen depletion), which in turn can stress aquatic organisms forming to "dead zones" in affected rivers, lakes and seas.

Recognized as a leading resource for the water quality community, the Alexandria, Va.-based Water Environment Federation (WEF) is a not-for-profit technical and educational organization with 32,000 individual members and 80 affiliated Member Associations representing an additional 50,000 water quality professionals throughout the world. The Arlington, Va.-based Methanol Institute (MI), formed in 1989, serves as the trade association for the global methanol industry.

"Wastewater treatment plant operators use hazardous chemicals like chlorine every day, but many are unfamiliar with methanol," said MI President & CEO John Lynn. "Working cooperatively, our two organizations will impart basic facts about the physical properties of methanol, and how to properly store and handle this flammable and hazardous chemical. Tragic accidents like the one in Bethune Point are preventable, and knowledge is the key."

In early March, WEF and MI launched an aggressive safety awareness campaign in response to the CSB recommendations. On March 5th, a Methanol Institute official addressed 300 wastewater professionals attending a WEF specialty conference on nutrient removal to discuss the CSB findings, and issued a call to action for industry leaders. The two organizations are also planning a two hour webcast, placement of articles in operator magazines, a presentation in WEF's Safety and Occupational Health Committee's (SoHC's) half session at WEFTEC – WEF's 80th annual technical exhibition and conference - this October in San Diego, and working with WEF's safety and occupational health committee on technical reference guidance materials.

"The hazards of methanol weren't even on the radar screen until a few years ago but with the fatalities in Florida, we want to do everything we can to prevent something even close to the accident in Bethune Point from happening again," said Al Calliers, Chair of WEF's Safety and Occupational Health Committee. "In addition to the activities currently being developed, we are also actively seeking out opportunities with other WEF committees to provide the best training and education on this issue not only for our members but the overall wastewater industry."

On January 11, 2006, three workers at Bethune Point were removing a hurricane-damaged steel roof that covered two chemical storage tanks; one empty and the other containing 3,000 gallons of methanol. Two workers were up in a manlift basket using an acetylene torch to cut the roof into sections, when sparks from the torch ignited methanol vapors coming from the tank, leading to an explosion that killed two workers and critically injured a third. The CSB investigation began two days later.

To access the report, please visit the U.S. Chemical Safety Board's Web site at http://www.chemsafety.gov/. For more information about WEF and the Methanol Institute, visit www.wef.org and www.methanol.org

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