CSB Calls for New Fire Protection Standards, Improved Chemical Information for Emergency Planners
FIRE PROTECTION In a case study report of the October 2006 hazardous waste fire at the Environmental Quality Co. (EQ), U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) calls for a new national fire code for hazardous waste facilities and for improving the information provided to community emergency planners about the chemicals those facilities store and handle. In addition to the report, which can be found at www.csb.gov/ completed-investigations/ docs/eqfinal report.pdf, CSB released a 16-minute video, “Emergency in Apex: Hazardous Waste Fire and Community Evacuation,” which is available free on DVD and the agency’s video website at www .safetyvideos.gov.
The EQ fire occurred at a hazardous waste transfer facility in Apex, NC. The facility was not staffed or monitored after hours, and no EQ employees were present at the time of the fire. Emergency responders did not have access to specific information on the hazardous chemicals stored at the site and ordered the precautionary evacuation of thousands of local residents. The evacuation order remained in place for 2 days, until the fire had subsided.
Apex firefighters initially responded to an emergency call reporting a haze with a “strong chlorine smell.” When firefighters arrived, they discovered a small sofasize fire that began to spread quickly. The CSB investigation found that the fire originated in the facility’s oxidizer storage bay-one of six storage bays where different wastes were consolidated, stored and prepared for transfer to offsite treatment and disposal facilities.
CSB concluded that several chemical oxygen generators stored in the oxidizer bay likely discharged and accelerated the blaze. The facility was destroyed in the ensuing fire and explosions. About 30 people, including one firefighter and 12 police officers, required medical evaluation at local hospitals for respiratory distress and other symptoms that occurred as a plume from the fire drifted across the area.
CSB notes that while federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act regulations require operators to “familiarize” local responders in advance concerning facility hazards, they do not describe what specific information must be shared about stored chemicals or define the frequency of communications. Similarly EPA regulations do not require facilities to share information about hazardous wastes with local agencies, since those wastes are generally exempt from OSHA rules requiring preparation of MSDS. The investigation found that EQ had only limited contact with the Apex Fire Department before this fire.
“Specific, accurate, up-to-date information on chemical hazards is essential to emergency response planning,” says CSB’s William Wark. “Communities have a fundamental right to know about stored hazardous chemicals that may affect their health and well-being. For first responders, having prompt access to such information is a matter of basic life safety.”
In its report, CSB recommends that EPA require that permitted hazardous waste facilities periodically provide specific, written information to state and local response officials on the type, approximate quantities and location of hazardous materials. The agency also calls on the Environmental Technology Council, a trade association representing about 80% of the U.S. hazardous waste industry to develop standardized guidance on waste handling and storage to prevent releases and fires. In addition, CSB recommends that the council petition National Fire Protection Association to develop a specific fire protection standard for the hazardous waste industry.
Copyright American Society of Safety Engineers Jun 2008
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