Industrial Accidents

The 8 Worst Industrial Accidents Of All Time

The Poisoning of Minamata | Industrial Accidents

Of all the industrial accidents, the poisoning of the Minamata claimed the most lives.  Minamata village came into being in 1889, and was no more than a small farming and fishing village.  Noppon Nitrogen Fertilizer Corporation, the predecessor of Chrisso Corporation, was established in 1908.  It started out with local, bizarre incidents of cats “dancing” in the street, and occasionally collapsing and dying.  No one realized that in this modest Japanese fishing village in the 1950s, that when friends or family members occasionally shouted uncontrollably, slurred their speech, or dropped their chopsticks at dinner, that one was witnessing the subtle early symptoms of a debilitating nervous condition caused by ingesting mercury. However when these scattered events began to haunt the town of Minamata, Japan, they were the first signs of one of the most severe cases of industrial pollution in history.  A local petrochemical and plastics company, Chisso Corporation, dumped an estimated 27 tons of methylmercury into the Minamata Bay over a period of 37 years. Mercury was used as a catalyst in the production of acetaldehyde, a chemical employed in the production of plastics. Methylmercury-contaminated wastewater, a byproduct of the process, was pumped into the bay, creating a highly toxic environment that contaminated local fish. Residents of Minamata, who relied heavily on fish for food, were at risk of exposure to methylmercury with every bite of fish they ate. The high contamination levels in the people of Minamata led to severe neurological damage and killed more than 900 people. An estimated 2 million people from the area suffered health problems or were left permanently disabled from the contamination.  A form of poisoning, Minamata is a disease of the central nervous system, caused by the consumption of fish and shellfish contaminated with methyl mercury compounds.  The physiological effects, including successive loss of motor control, were devastating, and resulted in sometimes partly paralyzed and contorted bodies.   Symptoms include sensory disorders of the four extremities, loss of feeling or numbness, cerebellar ataxia, tunnel vision or blindness, smell and hearing impairments, and disequilibrium syndrome. More serious cases lead to convulsions, seizures, paralysis, and possibly death. In addition to the outbreak among the townspeople, congenital Minamata disease was observed in babies born to affected mothers. These babies demonstrated symptoms of cerebral palsy.  As of March 2001, 2,265 victims had been officially recognized (1,784 of whom had died) and over 10,000 had received financial compensation from Chisso. By 2004, Chisso Corporation had paid $86 million in compensation, and in the same year was ordered to clean up its contamination.

The Refinery fire at Feyzin | Industrial Accidents

The Feyzin refinery, located south of Lyon, was commissioned in July 1964 and designed to process 1.7 million tons of petroleum per year.  In early 1966, the refinery added a pressurized liquid petroleum gas (LPG) storage facility.  On the morning of January 4th, 1966, a series of explosions and fires occurred in the refinery’s LPG storage zone.  On this day, an operation to drain off an aqueous layer from a propane storage sphere was attempted. Two valves were opened in series on the bottom of the sphere. When the operation was nearly complete, the upper valve was closed and then cracked open again. No flow came out of the cracked valve, so it was opened further. After a few seconds, the noise of an explosion was heard and the propane suddenly blew out.  They speculate that the blockage was caused by ice or hydrate.The operator was unable to close the upper valve and by the time he attempted to close the lower valve this was also frozen open. The alarm was raised and traffic on the nearby motorway was stopped.  According to witnesses, the 1 to 1.5 m-thick propane cloud left the establishment and expanded by gravity onto the A8 motorway.  The resulting vapour cloud is thought to have found its source of ignition from a car.  The flame moves quickly toward the refinery.  A minute later, the liquefied propane leak ignites at the propane storage sphere, resulting in a violent torch.  The LPG tank farm where the sphere was located consisted of four 1200 m3propane and four 2000 m3 butane spheres. The fire brigade arrived on site, but were not experienced in dealing in refinery fires.  The rescue teams attempted to get closer to the spheres.  At 8:45 am Sphere 443 exploded.  A fireball formed in just a few seconds, reaching nearly 250 m in diameter and 400 m in height.  Zone B is evacuated and all the personnel who had survived the explosion were ordered to fall back.  The 3 adjacent brutane spheres were subjected to intense thermal radiation, opened up, but did not explode.  The firefighters efforts continued for more than 24 hours.  The fire killed 18 people and injured 81 others. After the accident the five of the storage spheres were destroyed.

The Thiokol-Woodbine Explosion | Industrial Accidents

On a cold, damp morning a disaster occurred as a result of the negligence on the part of both Thiokol and the United States Government left 29 people dead and more than 50 injured in this isolated corner of southeastern Georgia.  On Feb. 3, 1971 there was a major explosion at the Thiokol Chemical Plant located near Woodbine, Georgia.  The morning of the disaster, Feb. 3, 1971, a concussion rolled through the country towns and pine woods of Camden County from a Thiokol munitions factory 12 miles east of here. A fire had broken out in a small building where 60 people were assembling magnesium flares. When the fire reached the storeroom where four tons of magnesium and sodium nitrate were spread on racks and 56,322 flares were stacked, it touched off a process known as deflagration, an extremely rapid burning that, in the enclosed environment of the storeroom, erupted as an explosion.  Pieces of the building were blown four-fifths of a mile away. The shock wave shattered windows in houses 11 miles back down Harrietts Bluff Road, a county highway that provides the only access to the plant. The sound of the disaster carried as far as Jacksonville, Fla., 40 miles south.  Subsequent investigations found that the company was entirely to blame for the deaths and injuries. Chemicals were mislabeled and improperly stored. There were no adequate fire safety procedures in place. Today the Occupational Safety and Health Administration works, despite inadequate funding and staffing, to prevent tragedies like the one that happened at Thiokol. Nevertheless, industrial accidents continue to take the lives of workers.

San Juanico Explosion | Industrial Accidents

The PEMEX San Juanico terminal distributed LPG that came by pipeline from three refineries. The terminal had 6 storage spheres and 48 horizontal cylinders. A ground level flare was used to burn off excess gas.  A pipeline that connected a storage sphere to a series of cylinders had burst and within 10 minutes the gas cloud reached the ground flare and ignited. It was too late for emergency shutdown procedures to be effective. Five minutes later the first boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion (BLVE) occurred followed by 15 explosions over the next 90 minutes.  The inhabitants of San Juan Ixhuatepec numbered about 40,000, and 60,000 lived in the hills surrounding the village. The majority were poor country people living in one-story houses constructed of concrete pillars filled in with bricks and with roofs of iron sheets.   Four BLEVE spheres generated a fireball that raged through the streets of Ixhuatepec for about 90 minutes.  A block of 200 houses built mostly of wood, cardboard, and metal sheets was demolished by the raging flames. Masses of fragments of tanks and pipes, some of them weighing 40 tons, were blown into air and landed as far as 1200 meters away.  Two of the explosions had an intensity of 0.5 on the Richter scale and were recorded on a seismograph at the University of Mexico.  The accident was responsible for at last 650 deaths and over 6400 injuries. Damages due to the explosion and the resulting fire were estimated at approximately $31 million.

The Phillips Disaster | Industrial Accidents

23 workers were killed and another 314 injured in a series of explosions in Pasadena, Texas. The Phillips 66 plant, for which the disaster was named, was housed in the Houston Ship Channel area. The plant manufactured highly flammable materials, such as plastic compounds.  During the manufacturing process, flammable gases were released from the facility.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that the safety valves, one for closing and one for opening, had been reversed and therefore did not function properly.  Instead of being expelled from the plant, the flammable gases accumulated inside the plant and came into contact with something that ignited it and consequently set off a series of explosions. The blast was so forceful, it measured 3.5 on the Richter Scale. In other words, it was as strong as if someone set off 2.4 tons of TNT inside the plant.  OSHA concluded that Phillips 66 plant failed in a number of areas. Overall, OSHA slapped Phillips 66 with 566 willful violations and nine additional serious violations.  OSHA also found Fish Engineering and Construction, Inc. partially responsible for the accident. Fish Engineering was a company contracted to conduct maintenance at Phillips plant.  Despite the severity of the Phillips Disaster of 1989, after repairs, Phillips plant was reopened. Today, it employs hundreds of individuals and still manufactures the same types of plastic compounds. Since the 1989 explosion, there have been three other major accidents, two of which resulted in fatalities.  The Phillips Construction Disaster serves to show the devastating consequences of failing to adhere to regulatory guidelines, especially in such a hazard-ridden industry.

Louisiana Chemical Explosion| Industrial Accidents

It was a bang heard throughout the Louisiana countryside. On May 1, 1991, at the IMC Fertilizer, Inc., Angus Chemical Company plant located in Sterlington, LA, a fire occurred in the area of a waste gas vent compressor in the nitroparaffins (NP) plant. A few moments after the fire started, a series of explosions destroyed a large section of the NP plant, sending shrapnel north and east of the plant. Large debris weighing up to 150 pounds was hurled almost a mile away.  A nitroparaffin plant at Sterlington, La., was severely damaged by an explosion and fire May 1 that killed eight workers and injured 120 others.  The plant, owned by Angus Chemical Company and operated by IMC Fertilizer under a management contract, accounted for approximately 75 percent of all nitro fuel used by drag racers.

Holland Fireworks Depot Disaster| Industrial Accidents

This made the biggest explosion of all the industrial accidents.  On May 13, 2000 about 100 tonnes of fireworks and other explosives detonated after a fire in the factory of S.E. Fireworks, situated in the middle of th eworking class housing estate of Mekkelholt in the northern Dutch city of Enschede.   In a split second almost 400 houses were reduced to their foundations and another 1,000 damaged. Twenty-one people were killed. A further 946 were injured, 23 of whom are still being treated in nearby hospitals.

Ajka Aulmina Plant Accident  | Industrial Accidents

This is the most recent of the industrial accidents.  The Ajka alumina sludge spill was an industrial accident at a caustic waste reservoir chain of the Ajkai Timföldgyár alumina plant in Ajka, Veszprém County, in western Hungary. Three years ago, on October 4, 2010, a dam of alumina sludge reservoir no. 10 of MAL broke with a thunder. Alkaline sludge flooded neighboring villages and sizable amounts of land. Eight people died  and 226 people were injured. Damage to property ran to tens of billions. Criminal and civil lawsuits related to the disaster are still dragging on.


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