Process Safety Beacon: How Could This Happen? The Temperature was Below the Flashpoint!


An oxidation reaction in an atmosphere of pure oxygen at 250 psig (1,825 kPa) was being carried out in a 10-gal (~38-L) agitated vessel at a pilot plant in 1986. It was thought that the vessel atmosphere was safe from ignition because the vessel was operating at 50°C below the flashpoint of the contents in the oxygen atmosphere, and the fuel vapor concentration was below the lower explosive limit (LEL). Processing conditions were stable for 41 min, when suddenly an explosion occurred. The blast ruptured the 750-psig (~5,200-kPa) reactor, significantly damaging the facility and starting several small fires. Fortunately, no one was injured.

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