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Lessons Learned from a Thermal Runaway Incident Involving an Organic Peroxide Intermediate During a Power Outage

  • Type:
    Conference Presentation
  • Conference Type:
    AIChE Spring Meeting and Global Congress on Process Safety
  • Presentation Date:
    March 23, 2010
  • Skill Level:
    Intermediate
  • PDHs:
    0.50

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A small specialty chemicals plant experienced an unusual power outage as the result of a lightning strike. The lightning strike damaged several of the electrical distribution systems and local controls and instrumentation systems in such a way that the extent of the damages to controls systems were not apparent. During the ensuing period of less than 6 hours, the facility personnel attempted to identify and repair the damaged systems to bring the plant back online. Unbeknownst to the operating personnel due to the damaged controls and instruments, a large reactor vessel, which was in use at the time of the outage, contained a sufficient enough quantity of hot organic peroxide intermediate that had started to undergo self-sustaining thermal decomposition. Without the ability to cool the material in the reactor vessel, the organic peroxide underwent thermal runaway leading to uncontrolled venting of hot reaction byproducts that were ignited leading to an initial flash fire followed by a large pool fire in the operating unit. Personnel were injured and significant facility damages were caused. This paper will describe the accident investigation, provide comparisons to other recent thermal runaway incidents, like the T2 accident, and discuss lessons learned from thermal runaway accidents.
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