Causes of Refinery and Plant Explosions
Anyone who has visited the Gulf Coastal States has seen those collections
of buildings and towers known as "refineries" or "chemical
plants." While, at first glance, you might be tempted to say something
along the line of "Seen one and you've seen them all," when
you pause to realize that each such facility represents an investment
of 10's of millions of dollars, you begin to understand how vital
these plants are to the national economy.
As long as things are going smoothly, we tend to take such chemical plants
and refineries for granted. On occasion, we might notice an unusual odor
on a particularly humid morning or have to deal with the comings and goings
of large trucks or wait for an unusually long railroad train to pass.
If we grew up in the area, we long ago learned to "just live with
it" and go about our daily affairs. But what if something "goes
wrong" and things at "the plant" threaten not only the
local environment but the lives of our neighbors and the health of our children?
Rather than attempt to describe every conceivable chemical plant or refinery
emergency, we will instead focus our attention on what may
cause an explosion at a refinery or a chemical plant
regardless of its raw materials or end-products.
According to the plant and refinery accident injury lawyer at the
Doan Law Firm, the majority of refinery and chemical plant explosions are due to one
of four general causes:
- Impure or "dirty" chemicals
- Improperly maintained equipment
- Improperly stored precursor and end-products
- Human error by poorly-trained employees
Impure or "dirty" chemicals
Modern refineries and chemical plants are set up to use substances of high
purity. The necessary purity is obtained by "cleaning" or "scrubbing"
impurities by use of various chemical and/or physical processes. Should
impurities remain, they can contaminate the refining or manufacturing
process and lead to a defective product. In some cases, "dirty"
chemicals may set off a chain of events that can lead to a fire or an
Improperly maintained equipment
The equipment used in chemical plants and refineries is designed to operate
efficiently only at a predetermined conditions such as internal temperature
and such equipment must be kept as clean as possible and/or recalibrated periodically.
Since taking equipment "offline" for routine maintenance can
disrupt a plant's production schedule, some chemical manufacturers
may not follow the equipment's recommended maintenance and calibration
schedule. If an explosion of fire occurs at or near such equipment, the
first thing that investigators will check are its maintenance and cleaning records.
Improperly stored precursors and end-products
A "precursor" is a substance that, when it reacts with another
substance or is subjected to a chemical or mechanical process, is transformed
into an "end-product" (a substance having an economic value).
As an example, consider how crude oil (the precursor) can be refined into
gasoline (the end-product) and other substances that themselves may be
precursors to other products.
Since many precursors can become chemically unstable if stored in the wrong
type of container, too warm or humid an environment, or if exposed to
vapors given off by other substances, various federal and state agencies
have established strict regulations regarding how chemicals are stored.
An explosion or a fire involving one of these substances occurs, it may
be taken as a sign that chemical safety regulations we not observed.
Human error by poorly-trained employees
Even though more and more chemical plants are moving toward greater use
of computers and robotics, human employees must monitor each stage of
the manufacturing process. In many cases, these employees are trained
"on the job" to perform a specific task or a series of tasks
and know very little about what goes on in other sections of the plant.
In the event of an accident or some other critical incident such as a
fire or a chemical leak, poorly-trained employees can be more of a hinderance
than an asset.
Contacting a chemical plant or refinery accident lawyer
Chemical plant and refinery fires and/or explosions are relatively rare
events. In some cases, factors beyond human control (weather, earthquakes,
or wildfires) have led to accidents or chemical spills. Most plant and
refinery accidents, however, are due to human error and negligence.
If you, or a family member, have been injured in a chemical plant / refinery
accident, we invite you to contact the chemical plant accident injury
lawyer at the
Doan Law Firm to arrange a free, no obligation,
review of your injury caseand to explore the legal options that may be available to you.
At the Doan Law Firm, we know that an accidental injury or death can be
devastating, both emotionally and financially. That is why our firm is
always willing to assume
full responsibility for all aspects of preparing your case for trial in exchange for a previously
agreed-upon percentage of the final settlement that we will win for you.