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Thursday, August 27, 2015 @ 05:08 PM gHale

Plymouth, MA-based Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station is back online after an automatic shutdown over the weekend.

The plant reconnected to the grid Tuesday night and returned to full power around 6:30 Wednesday morning.

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Entergy officials said the automatic shutdown was the result of a broken instrument control line feeding one of the plant’s four main steam isolation valves. The line ended up repaired by company officials.

This is the third shutdown at the Plymouth plant this year. Pilgrim was under additional oversight by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) until the end of June as a result of the two earlier shutdowns.

NRC inspectors found the plant had addressed the areas of weakness responsible for the unplanned shutdowns during winter storms in January.

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said the NRC is continuing to review an apparent violation issued to Pilgrim on May 27.

That finding involves the maintenance of the plant’s safety relief valves and stems from a special inspection conducted at the site after January’s shutdown.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015 @ 03:08 PM gHale

A storage tank at Sitka’s Jarvis Street Diesel Plant failed over the weekend, spilling an estimated 2,500 gallons of diesel fuel into Sitka Sound near the mouth of Indian River.

Teams from the city, state of Alaska, and Coast Guard are working to contain and clean up the spill — and to find out what caused it.

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As of Sunday night, it wasn’t yet clear exactly how much diesel had actually made it into Sitka Sound.

The city owns the Jarvis Street Diesel Plant. The facility is Sitka’s backup power station. City Administrator Mark Gorman said the failed storage tank released about 30,000 gallons of diesel into a cement containment enclosure. Some portion of that, which officials first thought could be as much as 7,000 gallons, then leaked into the storm water system, which empties into the ocean at Eagle Beach.

Gorman said though the release is near the mouth of Indian River, so far there’s no sign of diesel in the river itself, and the spill ended up contained to Eagle Beach and the water near Cannon Island.

The Fire Department estimated 40 people from the city, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the Coast Guard, and the National Park Service were on site Sunday, using boom and absorbent material to contain and soak up the spill. Speaking Sunday evening, Gorman said the efforts so far have had a visible impact.

“I was down at the impacted area this evening twice, and you can smell it in the air, but there’s no sheen on the water at this point in time, so it seems to be dispersing pretty rapidly,” Gorman said.

According to a press release from the city, the Fire Department first received a call around 11 a.m. Saturday reporting a heavy smell of diesel near Eagle Beach. Assistant Fire Chief Al Stevens said the department found a small patch of diesel in the water, but couldn’t locate its source. He said responders thought it had perhaps come from a fishing vessel in the area, and contacted the state and Coast Guard.

The city then received a second call on Sunday, reporting a sheen on the water near Cannon Island. This time, the Fire Department traced the spill to a storm drain on Sawmill Creek Road, and eventually followed it back to the Jarvis Street Diesel Plant.

Around 1 p.m. Sunday, The Fire Department initiated its Incident Command System, marshalling resources from the city, state, Coast Guard, and National Park Service. Stevens said the leak stopped around 3:30 p.m. Sunday, and teams worked throughout the afternoon to mop up the spill. “It certainly is a big deal,” he said.

Gorman did say diesel is much easier to clean up than crude oil.

“Diesel is not [crude] oil,” Gorman said. “If this was an oil spill, I think the 7,000 gallons going into the Sound would be alarming. It’s not good to have diesel going into the sound, but diesel does evaporate and dissipate quite rapidly.”

It’s not yet clear why the tank failed, or how the diesel leaked out of the containment enclosure. The city, state and Coast Guard are all investigating the case.

Officials first thought the spill was in a range of about 4,000 to 7,000 gallons, but later estimated the leak at 2,500 gallons.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015 @ 02:08 PM gHale

A chemical leak sent at least 15 people to the hospital for treatment before workers were able to stop it at a plant on Terre Haute, IN’s south side, officials said.

Sulfur dioxide leaked at Hydrite Chemical Co. Saturday night and winds carried fumes to nearby Hulman Mini Speedway, where a crowd was watching auto races, firefighters said.

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Between 200 to 300 people ended up evacuated from the area and some complained of respiratory problems, including difficulty breathing, nasal irritation, nausea and a metallic taste in their mouths.

“It felt like your throat got real tight,” said Caitlyn Chandler, whose brother ended up treated for chest pain, difficulty breathing and nausea.

Police reported no ongoing evacuations Sunday.

At the scene, first responders provided oxygen to some patients.

Terre Haute Regional Hospital received 15 patients complaining of symptoms related to the leak, hospital spokeswoman Ann Marie Foote said. Twelve ended up treated and released, while hospital officials admitted three for additional testing and treatment, she said.

No other businesses or homes evacuated, but police blocked access to the immediate area for several hours.

Joe Swan, a Terre Haute Fire Department spokesman, said the situation was under control by 10 p.m. Saturday, a little more than two hours after people first started calling 911.

“We believe Hydrite’s got everything shut down, and there’s no leak at this time,” Swan said.

Exposure to sulfur dioxide can cause “an array of adverse respiratory effects including bronchoconstriction and increased asthma symptoms,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015 @ 11:08 AM gHale

A fire Saturday night at a natural gas compressor station in Milford Township, PA, appears to be an arson, state police said.

Citing an ongoing criminal investigation, state police Fire Marshal Steve Kaneski would not comment. The alarm came in at 10:27 p.m. Saturday at the station off Fire Tower Road, he said.

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A security guard at the station identified the small fire inside the building and then called 911. Local firefighters then went in to put out the fire, said Scott Castleman, spokesman for Columbia Pipeline Group, which owns the facility. Members of Columbia’s operations team were there within an hour, he said.

The compressor station is near the intersection of the north-to-south Columbia Gas Transmission pipeline and the east-to-west Tennessee Gas Pipeline, both major interstate transmission lines that serve heavily populated regions of the East Coast.

Residents have come out against the compressor station, citing concerns over its proposed air emissions and emergency risks. A group led by environmental and property rights activist Alex Lotorto, originally from Milford, distributed yard signs, held rallies and filed an appeal of the facility’s state-issued air quality permit to the state Environmental Hearing Board.

“The goal of Energy Justice Network and the local residents involved in Stop the Milford Compressor Station Expansion has always been to eliminate risks to health and safety, not to instill fear in the hearts and minds of Fire Tower (Road) residents. We wish we could say the same for Columbia,” Lotorto said Sunday.

There are no suspects at this time, Kaneski said.

Despite some residents’ calls for emissions-free electric compressor units, Castleman said the station will use natural gas-fired turbines. The station is still under construction and had no gas flowing through its pipes at the time of the fire, he said.

The fire damaged the metal platform where a compression turbine sits, Kaneski said. Damage estimates right now are at $80,000, although that number could change, he said.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015 @ 05:08 PM gHale

Lightning can wreck havoc on any company at any time and that surely was the case Monday after a strike caused an explosion of an underground fuel storage tank in Fairfield, OH.

Lightning struck and ignited a 10,000 gallon underground fuel storage tank at the Gas Depot at 4871 Dixie Highway, police said.

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The blast left behind a crater 40 feet in diameter by 8 feet deep. Firefighters said there were two customers at the station when the bolt hit, but luckily no one was pumping gas at the time.

“Very loud. The concussion when I was sitting there, it threw me back and I looked up and saw as soon as it came up there was an instant puff of black smoke that came up and I knew it was close,” said Roger Tucker, who watched from his porch about a half a mile away.

Even seasoned firefighters remained impressed by the lightning hit.

“I can tell you in my 45-year career, I have never seen anything like this. Underground storage tanks are put there to reduce the potential for fire,” said Fairfield Fire Chief Donald Bennett.

Fearing two other 10,000 gallon fuel tanks could end up compromised, firefighters ordered evacuations for anyone in a 2,000 foot radius.

“We erred on the side of caution. Obviously, the training we have, we talk about what potentially could happen if 30 thousand gallons of diesel fuel and gasoline would go up. It’s a fairly large fireball,” Chief Bennett said.

Firefighters kept their distance and blanketed the blaze with foam. After an hour and a half, they let people back in their homes.

Firefighters said there was a slight diesel vapor still lingering on Monday night. Police were standing guard throughout the overnight hours. Firefighters said they would dig up two other tanks to see if either ended up compromised.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015 @ 08:08 AM gHale

A production line at the Grand Forks, ND, Simplot plant caught fire after grease build up from a fryer ignited Saturday night.

As a result of the fire, smoke was visible for miles in Grand Forks.

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Crews got the call to go to the potato factory on Gateway Drive around 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Fire Marshal Brian Geatz said the grease buildup from a fryer caught fire and went through ductwork. The fire then spread to parts of the roof until firefighters were able to locate and extinguish it.

The production line is where they produce McDonald’s potato products, an employee said. The flames then spread to a second production line and to the roof.

There were employees inside at the time and all were able to get out safety. The fire, which spread quickly, sent black smoke towering into the sky.

“It was a towering cloud of smoke. It was going hundreds of feet into the air, and it was increasing and so it looked a pretty hot fire was going on somewhere,” said Jon Gilmour, a local resident at the scene.

Crews were able to contain most of the fire within a half hour.

Simplot was going to shut down for maintenance in a week and a half.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015 @ 03:07 PM gHale

Aftermath of the 2009 massive blast at the Caribbean Petroleum gasoline terminal.

Aftermath of the 2009 massive blast at the Caribbean Petroleum gasoline terminal.

While the blast occurred over six years ago, lessons learned from the 2009 massive explosion at the Caribbean Petroleum (CAPECO) terminal facility near San Juan, Puerto Rico, can apply today.

In a scenario that appeared jarringly similar to the Buncefield, England incident in December 2005, the 2009 incident occurred when gasoline overflowed and sprayed out from a large above ground storage tank, forming a 107-acre vapor cloud which then ignited.

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The Chemical Safety Board (CSB) issued a draft report on the incident which includes proposed recommendations for addressing regulatory gaps in safety oversight of petroleum storage facilities by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The CSB also released a chilling video shows just how lucky three workers were to be alive after the massive explosion.

While there were no fatalities, the explosion damaged approximately 300 nearby homes and businesses and petroleum leaked into the surrounding soil, waterways and wetlands. Flames from the explosion were visible from as far as eight miles away.

On Wednesday, October 21, 2009, Caribbean Petroleum Corporation began a routine transfer of more than ten million gallons of unleaded gasoline from a tanker vessel docked two and a half miles from the facility. The only storage tank that was large enough to hold a full shipment of gasoline was already in use. As a result, CAPECO planned to distribute the gasoline among four smaller storage tanks. This operation would take more than 24 hours to complete. During transfer operations, one CAPECO operator remained stationed at the dock, while another monitored valves controlling gasoline delivery at the terminal.

By noon the next day, October 22, two of the tanks ended up filled with gasoline. The operators then diverted the gasoline into two other tanks – tanks 409 and 411. At 10 pm the night of the 22nd, as tank 411 reached maximum capacity, operators fully opened the valve to tank 409. According to witness interviews, the supervisor on duty estimated that tank 409 would be full at 1 am. But shortly before midnight, tank 409 started to overflow. Gasoline sprayed from the vents forming a vapor cloud and a pool of liquid in the tank’s containment dike.

“The CSB’s investigation states that there are a number of shortcomings in regulations that cover petroleum storage facilities,” said CSB Board Member Mark Griffon. “Facilities such as CAPECO, which store large quantities of gasoline and other flammables, are not required to conduct a risk assessment of potential dangers to the nearby community from their operations.”

The CSB’s investigation found the measuring devices used to determine the liquid levels in the tanks at CAPECO ended up poorly maintained and frequently did not work.

The facility primarily measured tank levels using simple mechanical devices consisting of a float and automatic measuring tape. An electronic transmitter card would normally send the liquid level measurements to the control room. But the transmitter card on tank 409 was out of service, so operators had to manually record the hourly tank level readings.

“We found that the ‘float and tape’ measuring system was the only control system CAPECO used to avoid overfilling a tank,” said Investigator Vidisha Parasram. “When that system failed, the facility did not have additional layers of protection in place to prevent an incident. The investigation concluded that if multiple layers of protection such as an independent high level alarm or an automatic overfill prevention system had been present this massive release most likely would have been prevented.”

An independent high level alarm could have detected and alerted operators to the danger of an overfill, even if the primary system for measuring the tank level fails, as it did at CAPECO, investigators said. An automatic overfill prevention system goes even further, and can shut off or divert the flow into a tank when the tank level is critically high. These additional layers of protection, however, were not in use at CAPECO.

The CSB found existing process safety regulations exempt atmospheric storage tanks of gasoline and similar flammable liquids. Additionally, the report concludes current regulations only require a single layer of protection against a catastrophic tank overfill – thereby putting workers and nearby communities at potential risk.

The draft report recommended the EPA adopt new regulations for facilities like CAPECO to require that flammable storage tanks come equipped with automatic overfill protection systems, and to require regular testing and inspection as well as risk assessments.

The Board is also recommending similar recommendations to OSHA, the American Petroleum Institute, and two key fire code organizations. The proposed regulatory changes would affect the EPA’s Risk Management Program; Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) rules; and/or OSHA’s Flammable and Combustible Liquids standard.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015 @ 12:07 PM gHale

Four tank cars leaked 35,000 gallons of oil after a train hauling fuel from North Dakota derailed in rural northeastern Montana, authorities said.

No one suffered an injury in the accident Thursday night that triggered the evacuation of about a dozen homes and a camp for oil field workers, according to state and local officials.

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This latest derailment comes after recent oil train crashes, including a 2013 derailment in Quebec that exploded and killed 47 people. In addition, the spill marked the latest in a series of wrecks across the U.S. and Canada that have highlighted the safety risks of moving crude by rail.

The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway train was going to Anacortes, WA, when it derailed about 5 miles east of the small town of Culbertson, near the North Dakota border, officials said.

A hazardous-materials team contained the spill with earthen dams, and the oil didn’t appear to affect any waterways, according to federal and state officials.

Unlike many prior oil train accidents, there were no explosions or fire. The cars knocked over a power line as they left the tracks, and firefighters sprayed foam on the wreckage to prevent a fire as they worked to clean up the oil, according to Roosevelt County Chief Deputy Sheriff Corey Reum and BNSF spokesman Matt Jones.

In addition to the 2013 Quebec accident, in which much of the town of Lac-Megantic suffered from the massive explosion, trains hauling crude from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana also ended up involved in fiery derailments.

Acknowledging the risks, U.S. transportation officials have put rules in place intended to make shipping hazardous liquids safer. Critics, however, have said the rules don’t do enough to keep cars on the tracks and prevent derailments.

There was no immediate explanation of what caused 22 cars to topple from the train in Thursday’s wreck.

The train originated at a Savage Services loading terminal in Trenton, ND, and had 106 cars loaded with crude, according to BNSF and state officials.

A BNSF hazardous materials team arrived at the scene at about 3:30 a.m. Friday, more than nine hours after the derailment, according to the Montana Department of Emergency Services. Reum said other railroad personnel had arrived in the first hours after the accident.

An evacuation order for people within a half-mile radius lifted Friday morning. About 30 people living in the workers camp stayed away until workers unloaded the remaining oil, Montana Department of Emergency Services spokesman Maj. Chris Lende said.

Under an April rule, oil shipped from North Dakota must undergo treatment to reduce the chances of explosion. State and federal officials couldn’t say whether Savage Services and the shipper in Thursday’s accident, Statoil, had gone through that process.

Monday, July 20, 2015 @ 02:07 PM gHale

Boeing and Airbus are assessing what, if any, problems they are facing after the blast last week at a Zodiac Aerospace factory in Newport, WA, that made portions of the building unsafe to enter.

The explosion stemmed from flammable chemical vapors that ignited, authorities said. Grant Sirevog, undersheriff for Pend Oreille County, said a “treater” machine used to impregnate materials with resin was operating but another machine to burn off the vapor appeared to be switched off or not working, allowing vapor to build up.

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Boeing and Airbus said on Wednesday they were assessing the potential impact of the factory closure on their operations, since it supplies materials used in aircraft interiors.

The explosion that rocked Zodiac’s Newport, Washington, plant ended up felt miles away, injured at least seven people and prompted the evacuation of surrounding homes and businesses for four hours due to strong chemical odors, officials said.

“There’s no recommendation to enter the building,” said Sirevog. “The structural integrity is greatly compromised.”

The blast at 9 p.m. Tuesday night caused one floor of the low-rise factory to collapse, fractured concrete supports, blew out windows and lifted the roof, Sirevog said.

Seven people ended up rushed to hospitals from the incident, including two who ended up transferred to a trauma facility in Spokane, WA, Newport Hospital Records Manager Julie Lohman said. The rest ended up treated and discharged.

One of the victims sent to Spokane underwent surgery and was in critical condition on Wednesday, Sirevog said.

The building is 100 yards long by 30 yards wide. The plant produces resin-impregnated honeycomb core and composite panels used by numerous Zodiac facilities to make aircraft lavatories, galleys and other structures, according to two people familiar with its operations.

Zodiac, based in Plaisir, France, said it was investigating the cause. “Our first thoughts go to our colleagues who have been injured,” the company said.

Zodiac is a major global supplier of aircraft seats, interiors and other components, and has come under scrutiny for production problems at its cabin interiors and seats factories in the U.S.

The problems caused delays in deliveries of Boeing and Airbus jetliners, and prompted Zodiac to warn its profits would fall short of earlier targets.

There were about 15 people in the plant when the blast occurred, Sirevog said, adding the injuries could have been greater.

“Everything close to where the blast occurred was fractured,” said Brian Schaeffer, assistant chief for the nearby city of Spokane fire department. He described the blast as far greater than explosions caused by natural gas leaks in homes.

“I’ve never seen that amount of force exerted on a structure in my career” of more than two decades, he said.

Friday, July 17, 2015 @ 02:07 PM gHale

A machine using chemicals to make fiberglass cloth fire resistant appears to be the cause of an explosion where five people suffered injuries Tuesday inside the Zodiac Aerospace Plant in Newport, WA, officials said.

The sheer power of the blast Tuesday night and the shrapnel it created caused the majority of the damage, and little to no fire ignited at Zodiac Aerospace, said Brian Schaeffer, assistant chief of the Spokane Fire Department who responded to the scene.

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“The energy from that explosion went through that building almost like a tidal wave and destroyed or impacted everything in its path,” he said.

Schaeffer said the blast peeled open huge metal roll-up doors and led to multiple collapses in the large commercial building 50 miles north of Spokane.

Thirty people were inside the plant, but most escaped with help from emergency systems, including sprinklers, Schaeffer said. The five people were hurt either from the pressure of the blast or penetrating injuries from shrapnel, he said.

Two victims ended up rushed to a Spokane hospital, where one was in critical condition and another in stable condition, Pend Oreille County Undersheriff Grant Sirevog said. Three others ended up treated and released from a hospital in town.

The state Department of Labor and Industries will investigate the explosion because it was an industrial accident with multiple injuries, agency spokesman Tim Church said.

The blast stemmed from vapors released while manufacturing chemicals used to make fire-resistant components for aircraft interiors, said Schaeffer, who responded with a hazardous-materials team.

It appeared a machine using chemicals to treat fiberglass cloth was to blame, Sirevog said.

But Zodiac Aerospace, a French company that makes aircraft components around the world, said in a news release said they do not know the cause of the explosion which the company will investigate along with government agencies.

“Our first thoughts go to our five colleagues who have been injured,” the company said.

The plant in Newport employs about 100 people and is one of seven Zodiac Aerospace facilities in the state.

The Newport plant is a “composite and engineered-materials facility.” It makes structural composites and assemblies, adhesives, panels with honeycomb core and various plastics, all used in the manufacture of aircraft cabin interiors.

Zodiac Aerospace is a major supplier of cabin interior products to Boeing. In the past year, as Boeing production ramped up, Zodiac Aerospace struggled to supply aircraft seats on time, creating a serious choke point in the supply chain.

The seat-supply shortage delayed a series of aircraft deliveries, including 787 Dreamliners to American Airlines.

Boeing spokesman Doug Alder said Wednesday the jet maker is “working to determine what, if any, impact there may be to our production system” from the Newport explosion.

Inside the plant, “the ceiling has come down and all (the sprinkler lines) that were bent and broken were pouring water onto the floor,” said Volunteer firefighter Chris Demlow. “It was just real loud, all the alarms were going off.”

Officials had been concerned about thousands of gallons of contaminated water from the plant reaching a nearby river after water lines ruptured and the sprinkler system activated and then broke, Schaeffer said.

Regulators responded and found no contamination outside the plant, state Department of Ecology spokeswoman Brooke Beeler said. No cleanup was required, she said.