Chemical manufacturing is inherently dangerous, but recent explosions have made it more so in the United States. Image: Flickr / jgh_photo / CC-BY-ND

In Louisville, Ky., a chemical plant fire has left two dead and another two injured. The carbide plant explosion set off a fire that is still burning at the plant. An early-warning system set up to warn residents of industrial accidents reportedly failed during this explosion.

Louisville chemical plant explosion

At 5:40 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday, Carbide Industries in Louisville had a large explosion. The chemical plant explosion does not yet have a known cause. One man was killed on the scene, while another died at the hospital. Another two workers were injured, treated and released. The fire from the explosion is still burning. Public health officials claim that there is no risk to the public from the burning carbide. Tungsten carbide, the most common form of carbide manufactured in the United States, presents a danger only if the dust is inhaled over long periods of time, causing fibrosis.

Public warning system failure

Due to the high number of chemical processing plants and manufacturing plants in Louisville, the city set up an early-warning system for residents. A hotline was created that plants are supposed to call within 30 minutes of an explosion, fire, or major accident. The city then disseminates information to the public, letting them know what steps need to be taken to protect themselves. During the Carbide Industries accident, the hotline was not called for 90 minutes. Even if the hotline had been called, however, it was not working anyway. The mayor of Louisville has issued a statement indicating that the city will work with industry to get the hotline up and working before another accident occurs.

The dangers of chemical processing

The Louisville, Ky., chemical plant fire is just one of several that has occurred in the last few weeks. A Boston-area chemical plant that manufactures sealant and adhesives exploded less than a week ago. In early March, a Kern County agricultural chemical plant exploded in California. Chemical plant fires and explosions are relatively common, and there is no standard warning system throughout the United States for the dangers that may result. While chemical processing is inherently dangerous, the environmental and safety regulations in the United States and other developed countries are stronger than many others. These safety regulations also ensure the purity and usability of the chemicals, many of which are more dangerous to ship than to process on-site.

Sources

MSNBC: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42211663/ns/us_news-life/
Boston.com: http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2011/03/task_force_to_s.html
LA Times: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/03/explosion-kern-county-chemical-plant.html

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