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Monday, November 23, 2015 @ 05:11 PM gHale

Talen Energy Corp. reconnected Unit 1 of the Susquehanna nuclear power plant near Berwick, PA, one week after it shut down due to a leak discovered during routine equipment testing.

Talen officials said Friday the unit was back on the regional power grid Thursday night. It shut down about 11:30 a.m. Nov. 12.

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Talen said plant staff determined the shutdown was the result of an electrical problem that triggered one of the eight large valves that control the flow of steam from the reactor to the turbine-generator to close unexpectedly.

Workers found a leak on the lower seal cavity vent piping for a reactor recirculation pump, said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). He also said a faulty electrical coil caused the valve shutdown.

Sheehan described the leaked water as “slightly radioactive,” and he said it was contained and captured within the containment building and posed no environmental risk. The problem also had no effect on public safety and required no public action, according to Sheehan and Talen. Susquehanna Unit 2 continued to operate safely at full power.

Talen spokesman Todd Martin classified the minor leak as a pre-existing condition and said works closely monitored the situation. He said workers detected no other leaks in the containment structure.

Sheehan said NRC inspectors on site followed the company’s troubleshooting and repair efforts. He said Susquehanna Unit 1 restarted Thursday but needed to reach about 30 percent or higher of power to be able to connect to the power grid.

With Unit 1 shut down, plant operators decided to complete other maintenance they could only do when the reactor is not operating.

“We made the choice, while the unit was out of service during a period of mild fall weather and lower wholesale power prices, to advance some maintenance tasks we had planned for the refueling outage next spring,” said Jon Franke, Susquehanna site vice president. “Completing that work now enhances the unit’s reliability for the coming winter, when demand for electricity is increased.”

The Susquehanna plant is in Salem Township, Luzerne County, about 75 miles northwest of Allentown. Susquehanna Nuclear LLC and Allegheny Electric Cooperative Inc. jointly own the facility.

Susquehanna Nuclear LLC is one of Allentown-based Talen Energy’s generating affiliates.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015 @ 10:11 AM gHale

Production continued Monday after a fire destroyed a portion of the Inmetco battery recycling plant in Lawrence County, PA, officials said.

“Half the building where the fire originated collapsed on top of the product they had in that building, and it’s all in 55-gallon drums,” said Ellwood City fire Chief Rick Myers. “I believe this stuff will burn for quite some time before it will actually go out.”

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Myers said the fire started in the rear of a battery storage facility on the property and workers notified the guard shack, which called the fire department. The building is a storage area for various types of batteries which end up recycled including lithium, nickel cadmium and lead acid batteries. Myers said lithium was an issue because it cannot end up extinguished with normal amounts of water but he said the company had resources on site to deal with the chemical.

The state Department of Environmental Protection was doing air monitoring throughout Sunday, Myers said. Inmetco officials will notify the fire department if the blaze spreads, Myers said, but he anticipates it will burn out without spreading.

Five firefighters ended up transported to Ellwood City Hospital for non-serious injuries. Four were later treated and released Sunday night, he said.

“We just want everybody to know that at no time was there anybody in danger in terms of the substances that were burning,” he said.

People did not have to evacuate, he said. A Lawrence County emergency medical services official said there is no public health hazard but nearby residents ended up advised to stay indoors and keep windows and doors closed until the smoke cleared.

“It can be a respiratory irritant,” Myers said, referring to smoke coming from the site.

The call came in at 8:54 a.m., according to the Ellwood City Fire Department. The fire ended up contained to the building of origin by about 10:40 a.m., Myers said.

Inmetco, a subsidiary of Horsehead Holdings Corp., specializes in recycling metals from batteries and hazardous wastes.

In March, Inmetco announced a $10 million expansion of the Ellwood City plant to increase capacity by 15 percent and meet increased demand for its steel waste and battery recycling services.

The project was on target to wrap up next year.

There was a fire at the plant in October 2012, which took firefighters from six companies about four hours to extinguish.

Monday, November 9, 2015 @ 06:11 PM gHale

About 42,000 gallons of crude oil spilled in Billings, Oklahoma, Thursday night, said officials at Magellan Midstream Partners.

The oil company said the oil spilled from a pipeline that runs from Enid to Ponca City. The company said there were no injuries or evacuations because of the incident.

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Authorities were able to shut down the pipeline and said the spilled oil ended up contained to a small area. Crews said the majority of the crude oil ended up recaptured.

Crews spent the evening cleaning up the oil and said the soil the oil had an impact on would also end up cleaned.

The cause of the incident is under investigation.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 @ 05:11 PM gHale

Investigations are underway into what sparked a fire at an oil refinery in Stratford, CT, late last Tuesday night that left a firefighter injured.

Flames broke out at the Total Petrochemicals and Refining building on Ontario Street, just before 10:30 pm. When Stratford Firefighters arrived, they evacuated everyone inside due to heavy flames and smoke billowing through the roof.

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“An aggressive attack by first-arriving fire crews were able to confine the fire to the manufacturing dust-collection system, which collects zinc dacrylate, which is blended with zinc dimethacrylate and heptane to produce a proprietary component for use in the manufacture of golf balls among other items,” said Stratford Deputy Fire Chief Jon Gottfried.

“Due to the physical nature of the chemicals that the firefighters were exposed to while in the process of extinguishing the fire, the Fairfield County Hazardous Material Response Team was summoned to the scene to conduct on-site decontamination of the firefighter’s protective gear and equipment prior to leaving the scene,” Gottfried said. “Additionally, a field response coordinator from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection was requested to respond to the scene to oversee the cleanup process at the plant.”

Dozens more firefighters ended up called to the scene to battle the blaze.

One firefighter suffered a facial injury and emergency workers transported him to Bridgeport Hospital where he ended up treated and released.

The duty shift commander declared the fire under control around 1:45 a.m. But firefighters remained on scene until almost 3:15 am.

Six engine companies and one tower ladder responded from Stratford Fire with 33 personnel, additionally seven specially trained hazardous materials technicians responded from Fairfield County Hazardous Materials Response Team to conduct decontamination operations.

The Stratford Fire Marshal’s Office is conducting an investigation into the cause of blaze.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015 @ 01:10 PM gHale

There was a steam explosion last Wednesday night near the TimkenSteel plant in Perry Township, OH, police said.

Shortly after 8 p.m., a steam explosion occurred in an outdoor area managed by Levy Company. Police are calling it an industrial accident.

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One Levy employee suffered a minor injury, but the victim ended up evaluated at the scene and released.

Witnesses also reported hearing an explosion near the plant.

TimkenSteel released the following statement:

“At approximately 8:05 p.m. on Wednesday (10.21), an apparent steam explosion occurred at the Faircrest Steel Plant in an outdoor area managed by Levy Company. TimkenSteel responders, supported by Perry Township Fire Department, were onsite and put out several spot fires which caused moderate damage to equipment outside the plant. A Levy employee was evaluated at the scene, but no treatment was needed. The situation is under control and the plant is still operating.”

Levy provides slag management services onsite at Faircrest. Slag is a byproduct from the melt process.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015 @ 10:10 AM gHale

There was an oil spill at the Chevron Refinery in Pascagoula, MS, said officials at the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).

Around 10,000 gallons of an oil product spilled sometime before midnight last Thursday, said a MDEQ inspector. Chevron contained the hydrocarbon product in a ditch on its property, and there’s little risk to air or water exposure, he said.

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“Chevron is in the process of picking it up with vacuum trucks and putting it back into the process system,” said Ernie Shirley, MDEQ’s enforcement chief.

Shirley said Chevron reported the spill to MDEQ around midnight. Exactly what happened is under investigation. Shirley described the incident as “a process upset.”

“There was a problem with the regular refining process, and liquid material that was supposed to go one place went another place and overflowed at the flare stacks onto the ground and collected in a ditch,” Shirley said.

The ditch connects to several small retention ponds on the Chevron property which can end up used for firefighting and water treatment at the plant. Though those ponds eventually could connect to the gulf, Shirley said the risk is minimal.

“We expect them to keep this on their property,” Shirley said.

This spill is the second incident at Chevron in weeks. Last month, the roof on a storage tanker partially collapsed, spilling approximately 4 million gallons of hydrocarbon material and releasing gasoline fumes into the air prompting complaints from residents and requiring additional air monitoring outside the plant.

Chevron released this statement:

“The Chevron Pascagoula Refinery experienced an internal spill of hydrocarbons late Thursday night. Refinery teams responded and the leak was immediately contained.

“The spilled material contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Refinery safety specialists have conducted air monitoring within the refinery throughout the event response, with the results confirming there is no danger to community.”

“The Refinery has notified and will continue to coordinate with all appropriate local, state and federal agencies.”

Friday, October 16, 2015 @ 04:10 PM gHale

Employees at the explosives plant Dyno Nobel in Carthage, MO, evacuated after an alarm sounded at about 7:50 p.m. Tuesday.

A small fire started in a building on the Dyno Nobel complex and a sprinkler system extinguished it, said Carthage Fire Chief Roger Williams.

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Plant officials can’t confirm there was a fire because they had not had a chance to get into the affected building as of late Tuesday night, said Nathan McDonald, human resources manager at Dyno Nobel.

McDonald said all employees evacuated when the alarms started sounding.

“I know we had a couple of production processes running, but I don’t have an exact number of employees,” McDonald said. “We have shut down all processes and all production until we can get to the root cause of what the incident really was. It’s still in the beginning stages of the investigation and we’re still trying to figure out exactly what triggered the alarm, what happened and how we move forward from here.”

Carthage firefighters got the call and then Duenweg and Oronogo tankers and firefighters came out as support.

Jasper County Sheriff’s Deputies and Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers closed down roads in the area, including Gum Road which runs along the north side of the plant.

McDonald said employees started coming back into the plant around 9:45 p.m.

The company accounted for all employees and there were no injuries.

McDonald said employees and officials would monitor the building involved until Wednesday morning when a full investigation would start.

“It’s hard to get a whole lot done in the dark,” McDonald said. “We want to have the sun up so we can really get in and do a thorough search for a cause and find out what the problem was.”

McDonald said a building where they make dynamite dope is at the center of whatever happened.

On July 14, 1966, the plant, then known as the Hercules Powder Plant, was the site of a huge explosion that killed one person and damaged buildings across the city.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015 @ 01:10 PM gHale

A failed software application prevented passengers from checking in for their Southwest Airlines flights and caused widespread delays around the U.S. Sunday.

To date, Southwest has provided few details about the source of the problem, which resulted in 836 delays out of 3,355 scheduled flights and created long lines at numerous U.S. airports. The problem forced the airline staff to manually issue tickets and use backup systems to check travelers into their flights.

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Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins said workers had fixed a failed software application that had caused the problems. He did not provide more details or describe the application but said there was no indication that hackers were to blame.

This was not the first issue an airline had regarding computer systems. American Airlines just experienced technical difficulties and United has already had two major outages this year.

“It was much more than a bag glitch. They were down to writing tickets and boarding passes by hand,” said Joe Brancatelli, who covers travel issues for “It seemed like a systemwide outage of their passenger service systems.”

Brancatelli said the complexity of the programming and networking that keeps passengers moving when it works correctly works against a quick fix when something goes wrong.

“The systems do so much that there are a million things that must be restored when there’s an outage,” he said. “The problem, at base, is that everything is essentially automated now because airlines are trying to drive down costs and once something blows, the whole system bogs down.”

Southwest issued a statement Monday letting travelers know that the system should be back up and running:

“Today we are expecting the technical systems that power our Customer Service to perform normally. Teams worked throughout the night in advance of our first departures to ensure the smoothest operation of our originating and later flights.”

Thursday, October 1, 2015 @ 04:10 PM gHale

A series of mistakes that began five days earlier led to the release of nearly 24,000 pounds of methyl mercaptan, a toxic chemical that killed four workers and injured three others at the DuPont manufacturing facility in La Porte, TX.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released findings of the interim investigation into the leak of the toxic chemical at the DuPont facility. Four employees died in the Nov. 15, 2014 incident.

Board members of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board voted unanimously this week to approve safety recommendations identified by investigators after the deadly incident.

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Crystal Wise, Wade Baker, Robert Tisnado and his brother Gilbert Tisnado all died of asphyxia and exposure while dealing with the leak.

“Our investigation has uncovered lapses, weaknesses or failures in the company’s safety planning and procedures — safety management systems that could have and should have prevented the accident and this loss of life,” said Vanessa Allen Sutherland, the safety board’s chairperson. “We believe these recommendations lay out what DuPont should do to protect its workers and the public. We hope these improvements at La Porte will serve as a first step to fully restore DuPont’s global reputation for safety.”

Timeline to an Incident
Nov. 10: A water dilution system accidentally activated on that Monday and caused a storage tank to overload. Crews had to shut down the system used to manufacture an insecticide produced at the plant. They tried to restart the system two days later, but discovered a clog.

As they tried to clear that clog, the investigation revealed, about 2,000 pounds of water accidentally ended up in a storage tank containing methyl mercaptan.

The report said normally, a mixture of methyl mercaptan and water would not create a problem. However, temperatures were unusually cold that day (around 40 degrees) and had been consistently below 55 degrees in the days preceding.

The low temperature caused the mixture to form a separate blockage in the system’s methyl mercaptan feed. Crews came up with a plan to clear the clog and get the chemical flowing again.

Nov. 12: Workers tried to restart the system, but found the piping blocked caused by a slurry in the pipeline. Operators flushed hot water through the piping.

Nov. 13: The blockage cleared, but workers found a valve was left open during the operation that should have prevented hot water from flowing into other piping. With the valve open water flowed into the methyl mercaptan feedline which led to a storage tank . About 2,000 pounds of water escaped into the feedline and into the tank. Water mixing with the methyl mercaptan caused another blockage, called a hydrate.

Nov. 14: On that Friday morning, the plan was to use hot water on the outside piping to dissolve the clog. The investigation showed the crew realized methyl mercaptan would expand when heated and they needed to figure out how to remove dangerous vapors from the building. So they opened valves along the feed line and a system was set up to vent the methyl mercaptan. The report said this plan never ended up evaluated for potential hazards and no one performed a safety analysis. There was also no written procedure created to track the progress of the plan. At 6 p.m. the night shift took over and they continued the work.

Nov. 15: Around 1:30 a.m. on that Saturday, the CSB investigation said, the team working to clear the clog in the methyl mercaptan feed line realized the plan was not working. They regrouped in the control room to figure out how to go forward. But they left two valves open that were part of their plan to clear the clog and remove the vapors. An hour later, at around 2:45 a.m., the report states, the flow of methyl mercaptan in the feed line suddenly resumed, but no one noticed.

The sudden flow sent the toxic chemical pumping into the venting system, building enormous pressure and sounding alarms. The CSB report found supervisors did not initially connect the alarms they were hearing to the problem of the clogged feed line. The problem was they were related and highly toxic and highly flammable chemicals released into the room.

“Two rooftop ventilation fans were not working, despite an urgent work order written nearly a month earlier. But we found that even working fans probably would not have prevented the fatalities within the room due to the large amount of toxic gas released,” said Dan Tillema, lead investigator with CSB.

A supervisor and an operator rushed into the room, unaware of the toxic fumes. The operator made an urgent distress call for help, but when the control room tried to get more information, there was no response. Three other operators rushed to the area to help, but the report said they had no idea they were rushing into a toxic gas release. Fumes overcame a fifth worker in the area who managed to get out of the building and recover.

A sixth worker not identified in the report, but later found to be Gilbert Tisnado, realized what was happening and prepared to enter the building to rescue his brother Robert, another employee who was not responding. On his way to the leak site, the report states Gilbert Tisnado found another worker overcome by the fumes. Tisnado rescued that worker by using an air bottle to help him breathe. The report states Gilbert Tisnado continued to the building where the leak was occurring. Emergency personnel found him dead, next to his brother Robert. Investigators found Gilbert wearing a rescue breathing tank mask, but he did not connect it to the air bottle. Investigators wrote it appeared Gilbert was trying to help his brother, but ended up overcome by the toxic fumes.

The plant’s Emergency Response Team (ERT) received an alert. But the report found the team showed up, unaware they were responding to a toxic leak and they didn’t have the right equipment to make rescues. About an hour and a half after the first distress call, the ERT had the right equipment and entered the site. But, by the time they arrived, the four employees missing were unresponsive.

Building Design
The CSB found the design of the building where DuPont made Lannate pesticide contributed to the deadly incident. Investigators wrote that processing equipment housed in an enclosed manufacturing building exposed workers to highly toxic chemical and asphyxiation hazards that DuPont had not identified or controlled. The report states vapors from chemical leaks end up trapped and concentrated in the building, posing a risk to employees.

Ventilation fans ended up classified as “critical process safety equipment” by DuPont. Two fans designed to keep exposure levels low were not working at the time of the leak. The ventilation fan in the area where methyl mercaptan released was not operating, despite an “urgent” maintenance work order submitted on Oct. 20, weeks before the fatal leak. Even though the fan was out of order, CSB investigators wrote the company took no additional precautions to protect workers in case of an emergency. Regardless of the condition of the fans, the CSB team found the leak was so massive, even operable fans would not have prevented the deaths.

The CSB report said DuPont’s system for detecting methyl mercaptan did not do enough to warn workers or the public about a toxic exposure. Investigators found the trigger point for alarms at the plant was set well above what OSHA set as a recommended level. In the hours before the Nov. 15 incident, multiple alarms sounded, but the company’s emergency response team did not get a notification and employees continued to work in the area. Leaks of methyl mercaptan ended up detected Nov. 13 and 14, but never reported as releases or investigated as safety issues.

Safety Recommendations
CSB board members made safety recommendations in the report. Among the recommendations:
• DuPont should complete a comprehensive engineering analysis of the manufacturing building where the chemical leak occurred
• Assess safer design options
• Report the findings to employees and the CSB

The CSB report makes a similar recommendation for the building’s air ventilation system to ensure a safe environment for workers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration previously fined the company $99,000 and an additional $273,000 for safety violations at the La Porte plant following the fatal incident and put the company in its “Severe Violator Enforcement Program.”

DuPont Response
In July, DuPont told the CSB it remained committed to addressing safety issues identified in the investigation. The company also stated its commitment to implementing CSB safety recommendations and said the unit involved in the November 2014 incident will not restart until the safety actions are complete.

“DuPont representatives have engaged extensively with representatives of the CSB to discuss the agency’s findings and recommendations. We remain committed to cooperating with the agency throughout its investigation. DuPont is actively addressing the CSB recommendations as well as those identified from our own incident investigation,” said James O’Connor, La Porte plant manager. “We value the CSB’s perspective, and we are taking their recommendations seriously. The La Porte plant is shut down and will remain so until DuPont has executed a comprehensive and integrated plan to safely resume operations.

“While DuPont respectfully disagrees with aspects of the report and some of the CSB’s findings, we are coordinating with the CSB as we implement the following actions:
• Improved process hazard analyses
• Engineering analysis of the Lannate building and exhaust ventilation system, and implementing safety improvements
• Equipment modifications and redesign, including relief systems, detectors and alarms
• Improved Lannate operating procedures and training for all personnel

Wednesday, September 30, 2015 @ 02:09 PM gHale

A violent chemical reaction at a high tech manufacturing facility Monday night led to an evacuation and sent two people to a hospital.

Fire and hazmat crews got the call at 6 p.m. to Mound Laser & Photonics Center, in Kettering, OH.

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“We got dispatched on a chemical explosion,” said Battalion Chief Jon Durrenberg of the Kettering Fire Department. “Two chemicals that weren’t compatible got mixed together and created a violent reaction.”

The building ended up evacuated, and two people in the vicinity of the incident went to Miami Valley Hospital as a precaution, Durrenberg said.

“It wasn’t an explosion, it was just, as they call it, a violent exothermic reaction,” Durrenberg said. “It created a lot of heat, a lot of mess (with splattering), a cloud of gas. It was enough to make them evacuate immediately.”

Just over a dozen people were in the building at the time of the incident.

The facility fabricates various metal components, which are laser-cut and then treated with acids and alcohol, Durrenberg said, as part of the manufacturing process.

According to the company’s website, it serves medical and defense industries.