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Safety

Hydrocarbon Vapor Led To Fatal Accident

by Jeff Johnson
October 14, 2013 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 91, ISSUE 41

Ignition of a cloud of hydrocarbons at the Williams Cos. plant in Geismar, La., caused a June 13 accident and fire that killed two workers, according to a preliminary internal company report. The report provides the first glimpse of the accident’s cause. A federal investigation by the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board is stalled because of the federal government shutdown. The Williams investigation found that the accident took place when liquid hydrocarbons unexpectedly contained in an off-line reboiler, a type of heat exchanger, were heated, rupturing the reboiler and releasing the hydrocarbon cloud. A pressure relief system for the off-line reboiler was isolated from the reboiler and was in standby mode, according to the company. The equipment was in the propylene fractionator area of the plant, which was in operation at the time of the accident.

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