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Occupational Safety and Health Administration OSHA

Accident Report Detail

Accident: 201953668 - Employee Is Injured In Explosion At Chemical Plant

Accident: 201953668 -- Report ID: 0522000 -- Event Date: 09/21/2003
InspectionOpen DateSICEstablishment Name
30706301609/22/20032819Aldrich Chemical Company Inc. Dba Isotec
On September 21, 2003, Employee #1 and several coworkers were working at a chemical plant that deals with nitric oxide. On the day of the accident, a major leak occurred in a stainless steel distillation column. The nitric oxide leaked into the facilities surrounding vacuum jacket and into the atmosphere through a pump, which controls a high quality vacuum inside the jacket to minimize transmission of heat toward the cryogenic distillation columns. A brown cloud quickly formed and the temperature and the pressure inside the distillation column and its surrounding vacuum jacket began to rise. The leak was detected and the vacuum pump was turned off to halt the leakage of nitric oxide into the atmosphere, allowing the pressure inside the column and vacuum jacket to stabilize around 130 psi. Although stabilized, the pressure was far above the normal pressure of less than or equal to atmospheric pressure (14.7 psi). Approximately 3 hours later, an explosion occurred. The operation and process were destroyed, and debris flew through the plant. Employee #1 suffered lacerations due to flying glass and was treated at a local hospital, where he received stitches and then released. A detailed investigation determined that the cause of the explosion was most likely due to something inside the vacuum jacket initiated the dissociation of nitric oxide, a reaction that is very rapid, exothermic, and self-propagating once started.
Keywords: leak, pressure vessel, work rules, explosion, laceration, chemical reaction, nitrous oxide, process safety, face, untrained
Employee # Inspection Age Sex Degree Nature Occupation
1 307063016 Non Hospitalized injury Other Occupation not reported

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